According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the U.S. prisoner count in 2014 was 1,561,500, down 1%, or 15,400, from the 2014 figure. Over a third of that modest decrease came about as a result of a decrease of 5,300 prisoners in the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in the past year.
However, despite the push by many state and the federal government to reduce their prisoner counts in the face of a decreasing national crime rate, the prisoner counts in state prisons actually increased from 569,000 in 2013 to almost 582,000 in 2014. Thus, many prisoner rights experts believe that despite the fact that sentences are generally shorter than in the past, it will be difficult to rapidly decrease the prison population.
The BJS statistics also noted that black men comprised 37 percent of the prison population, despite the fact that less than 13% of the U.S. population is African-American. White men made up 32 percent of the male prison population, and Hispanic men comprised 22 percent of prisoners. According to BJS, in 2014, "6% of all black males ages 30 to 39 were in prison, compared to 2% of Hispanic and 1% of white males in the same age group."
The report also stated that the number of male prisoners in state prisons 55 and over continued to increase, comprising 10% of all detainees. The number of female prisoners continued to increase, by 1.9 % in 2014. Sixteen percent of all state prisoners were drug offenders, and 53 % were serving sentences for violent crime. In federal institutions, the number of violent offenders dropped to seven percent, and fifty percent were drug offenders.
The BJS study is a sobering reminder of just how much work remains to be done to reverse the American justice system's fascination with incarceration, given that after all of the emphasis that the state and federal government have put on reducing prisoner counts in the past years, prisoner counts have only gone down one percent.
Sources: www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p14.pdf, www.thecrimereport.org/news/inside-criminal-justice/2015-09-us-prisoner-population-declines-slightly
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