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U.S. Prison Population Declines in Second Half of 2009

In June 2010, the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice released year-end prisoner counts for state and federal prisons in 2009. The counts reported 1,613,656 prisoners in state and federal prisons, up 0.2% from year-end 2008. However, the count for the second half of 2009 indicated a decrease of 3,822 prisoners, the first decline in a half-year period since 2001. The significance of the decrease is unknown since second-half statistics over the past decade usually show a lower rate of increase or, in 2001, a slight decline, compared to a stronger increase in the number of prisoners during the first half of the year.

Since 2006 there has been a clear trend of reduced rates of increase in the prison population such that, if the trend continues, there should be an overall reduction in the nation’s prison population by year-end 2010. For example, in 2006 the prison population increased by 42,016 prisoners. In 2007 the increase was 28,300 prisoners. There was an increase of 11,514 prisoners in 2008 and 3,897 in 2009 – by far the lowest annual increase in the past decade as measured by year-end population counts.

One factor that impacts prison populations is a change in parole revocation policies, since in most states a significant number of prison admissions are not offenders who have committed new crimes but parolees who have been revoked for non-criminal violations.

Overall, the population in state prisons decreased by 2,941 prisoners (0.2%) in 2009. That reduction was offset by an increase of 6,838 federal prisoners (3.4%). Thus, there was a net increase in the nation’s prison population as a whole in 2009 despite the second-half decrease.

Twenty-four states reported decreases totaling 15,233 prisoners in 2009. Six states accounted for 71.5% of those reductions: Michigan (-3,260), California (-2,395), New York (-1,660), Mississippi (-1,272), Texas (-1,257) and Maryland (-1,069).

Other states reported increased prison populations totaling 12,282 prisoners. Five states accounted for 60.7% of that increase: Pennsylvania (2,214), Florida (1,527), Louisiana (1,399), Alabama (1,282) and Arizona (1,038).

In six states – Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Vermont – jail detainees were included in the prison population counts, because those states’ prisons and jails comprise one integrated system. However, those six states accounted for only 43,580 of the nation’s 1,613,656 prisoners at year-end 2009.

The report is available online at, and is also posted on PLN’s website.

Source: Prisoners at Yearend 2009 – Advance Counts, NCJ 230189 (June 2010)

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