First Decline in Prison Population Since 1972 Coincides With Crime Decline

Tennessee State PrisonFor the second consecutive year, data released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed a decline in the adult correctional population, while crime rates decreased as well. [Prisoners in 2010 PDF] Even more promising is the decline in the total U.S. prison population – caused primarily by a decrease in the state prison population (the federal prison population experienced a slight increase).

From the report’s introduction:

On December 31, 2010, state and federal correctional authorities had jurisdiction over 1,605,127 prisoners, a decrease of 9,228 prisoners from yearend 2009. The combined U.S. prison population decreased 0.6% in 2010, the first decline since 1972. The 2010 imprisonment rate for the nation was 497 sentenced
prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents, which is 1 in 201 residents

Two of the highlights from the report stand out in particular:

In 2009, the most recent data available, 53% of state prison inmates were serving time for violent offenses, 19% for property, 18% for drug, and 9% for public order or other offenses.„

About half (51%) of federal inmates in 2010 were serving time for drug offenses, 35% for public-order offenses (largely weapons and immigration), and less than 10% each for violent and property offenses.

The jump from 9 to 35% for public order offenses ties in disturbingly well my assertion in a prior post that we need to look at arrest rates. Since 1972 the number of juveniles arrested for thing other than minor traffic violations experience a jump from 225 of the population to a full third of it. This would seem to correlate well with the findings above.

Image Source: kelseywynns on Flickr, used under its Creative Commons license

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