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Dixie Prison Growth Drives Number of Incarcerated Americans Above 2 Million Once Again

After two years of decline driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of Americans held in federal and state prisons at the end of 2022 jumped 2% to a total of 1,230,143, according to a November 2023 report by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).

Covering both state and federal prison systems, the report also highlighted a remarkable geographic divide: The 11 states of the former confederacy accounted for 16,969 of those additional prisoners, representing two-thirds of all U.S. prison population growth. The remaining 39 states, by contrast, collectively added only 8,087 prisoners, or fewer than half as many.

Of those 11 former slave-holding states, only Virginia showed a reduction in its prison population. Within the group, almost all combined prison population growth—15,201 additional prisoners—occurred in the five states abutting the Gulf of Mexico: Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

Texas continued to hold the most prisoners and Florida third-most, behind California. Populations in all state prison systems together grew by 2%, while the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) saw its prisoner count rise just 1%. At 12.9%, BOP’s share of the country’s total imprisoned population was a full 1% lower than it was in 2013.

The increase in prisoners followed eight consecutive years of declines. Still the total remains 21.7% below 2013’s level. The number of men in prison is about 13 times higher than the number of women, but the latter number grew much more—4.9%, compared to 1.9% growth in the number of imprisoned men. See: Prisoners in 2022 – Statistical Tables, BJS (Nov. 2023).

Another 663,100 in Jails

In a separate report released the following month, BJS estimated there were 663,100 people held in jails in the U.S. at the end of June 2022. That represented a 4% jump from the prior year. It also meant that 72% of the country’s estimated 915,000 jail beds were occupied, down from an 85% occupancy rate 10 years earlier, when jails held 744,500 people.

As in prisons, the rate of jail population growth was higher for women than for men—9% v. 3%. The two groups were somewhat closer in size than in prison, too, with men outnumbering women 6 to 1.

The racial and ethnic composition of jail populations remained stable, the report said, with 48% white, 35% Black and 14% Hispanic. But the number aged 17 and under fell to 1,900, down from 5,400 in 2012.

Over the preceding year, jails held detainees an average of 32 days. That length of stay has been climbing since at least 2012, when the average jail stay was less than 25 days. That’s particularly alarming, given that the share of those in jail who have not been convicted and are awaiting trial rose to 70%, compared to 67% in 2012. Of the total population in U.S. jails, the number of probation violators fell, while the number of parole violators rose. See: Jail Inmates in 2022 – Statistical Tables, BJS (Dec. 2023).

Other Detention Facilities

That’s a total of 1,893,243 Americans held in the 1,566 state prisons, 98 federal prisons and 3,116 local jails counted by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) in March 2023. But PPI also counted over 100,000 more people detained in 1,323 juvenile lockups, 181 immigration detention centers, 80 Indian country jails, plus military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals and U.S. territorial prisons. That pushed the number of incarcerated Americans above 2 million, where it was before the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down courts and new admissions.


Additional source: Prison Policy Initiative

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