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BJS Studies Show Number of Prisoners, Probationers Continues to Drop Slightly

by Derek Gilna

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has published three new studies based on calendar year 2015 data, with one indicating the total number of prisoners nationwide declined to the lowest level since 2005. The number of people on probation also decreased slightly, but the number of parolees and amount of bed space in local jails rose. According to the studies, the drop in the prison population was driven by an almost 7% decrease in federal prisoners.

The BJS found the “total number of prisoners under the jurisdiction of state and federal correctional authorities” was 1,526,800 at the end of 2015, a decline of 35,500 from the previous year. The prison incarceration rate dropped 3%, from 471 prisoners per 100,000 population in 2014 to 458 per 100,000 in 2015. More than half of state prisoners were incarcerated for crimes of violence whereas almost half of federal prisoners were serving time for drug offenses.

The slight decline in the number of prisoners was matched by a modest decrease of 1.5% in the number of people on community supervision, which included those on probation, parole and all other post-release supervision. Of the 4,650,900 people on community supervision, 81% were probationers.

The number of probationers dropped from 3,868,400 in 2014 to 3,789,800 at the end of 2015, though the number of parolees grew from 857,700 to 870,500 – an increase of 1.5%. According to the BJS, “Approximately 1 in 53 adults in the United States was under community supervision at yearend 2015.”

The BJS also tracked the number of admissions to local jails in a study entitled “Jail Inmates in 2015.” According to that report, “An estimated 721,300 inmates were confined in county and city jails on an average day in 2015, down from the peak of 776,600 inmates on an average day in 2008.”

The study further noted that the jail incarceration rate decreased from a high of 260 per 100,000 population from 2006 to 2008, to 230 in 2015, based upon midyear counts. Around 68% of prisoners in local jails were held on felony offenses.

Overall, the number of prisoners in state and federal prisons and local jails combined at the end of 2015 totaled around 2.24 million – down from more than 2.3 million in 2010.

Despite the downward trend in incarceration rates, however, the BJS reported that “the rated capacity in jails reached 904,900 beds at yearend 2015, up 47,000 beds since 2010,” indicating that mass incarceration remains alive and well in the U.S. 



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