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Department of Justice Reports on State and Federal Prisoners in 2009

by Matt Clarke

The Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice has released a statistical report on prisoners under state and federal jurisdiction for the year ending on December 31, 2009. The report notes a slowing in the growth of prisoner populations with a 0.2% increase from year-end 2008 of 3,981 prisoners to 1,613,740 prisoners, 1,548,721 of whom had already been sentenced. The slowing growth rate was due to the first decline (-0.2%) in sentenced state prisoners since 1977. This masked a 3.4% increase in federal jurisdiction prisoners.

The overall imprisonment rate declined for the second consecutive year from 506 per 100,000 U.S. residents in 2007 to 502 in 2009. In 2009, Louisiana led the states in rate of imprisonment with 881 per 100,000 residents, followed by Mississippi (702), Oklahoma (657), Alabama (650) and Texas (648). The states with the lowest imprisonment rates were Maine (150), New Hampshire (206), Rhode Island (211), Massachusetts (213) and North Dakota (228). The federal rate was 61 per 100,000 citizens.

From 2006 through 2009, prison admissions declined by 2.5% while prison releases increased by 2.2% causing the number of released and admitted prisoners to nearly converge at around 730,000 in 2009. 2009 releases from state prisons (678,575) actually exceeded admissions (674,707) for the first time. However, 2009 federal admissions (56,153) exceeded releases (50,720).

The decrease in state prison admissions was driven by a large decrease in parole violator admissions which dropped by 11,066 (4.5%) from 248,515 in 2008 to 237,449 in 2009. This accounted for over two-thirds (69%) of the total decline in 2009 state prison admissions and was the first such decline since 2003. New court commitments declined by 1.2% from 428,591 in 2008 to 422,910 in 2009, continuing a four-year trend of declining new court commitments.
California was the leader of the 29 states reporting admission declines. At 11,122, its decline was over four times that of any other declining admission state with 9,668 being attributed to a decline in parole violators. The reduction in parole violator admission made up 87% of California's decline in admissions.

At 8,056, California also reported the largest drop in 2009 releases--over four times the next nearest state. Overall, states reported a decline of 1,111 (0.2%) in conditional releases and a decline of 2.4% in unconditional releases. The 3,962 decline in unconditional releases accounted for 87.4% of the total decrease in releases with Georgia (3,209) reporting the largest decrease in unconditional releases.

Overall, from December 31, 2008 through December 31, 2009, the male prison population increased by 5,168 prisoners (0.3%) while the female prison population decreased by 1,187 (1.0%). The male rate of imprisonment (949 per 100,000 U.S. residents) was 14 times that of the female imprisonment rate (67 per 100,000). Black non-Hispanic males had the highest rate of imprisonment at 3,119 per 100,000. This was about 3 times the rate for Hispanic males (1,193 per 100,000) which was more than double the rate for white non-Hispanic males (487 per 100,000).

During the same time period, females were imprisoned at the rate of 1 in 703 for blacks, 1 in 1,356 for Hispanics and 1 in 1,987 for whites. Private prisons accounted for 129,336 (8%) of the prison population.

Source: Prisoners in 2009, available online at

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