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Expert Brief

Update: Changes in State Imprisonment Rates

This fact sheet provides an update to findings on state imprisonment trends originally outlined in The Reverse Mass Incarceration Act.

Published: June 7, 2016

[Down­load a PDF of the fact sheet]

Today, there are 2.3 million people in the nation’s pris­ons and jails — a 500 percent increase over the last forty years. With almost one in 100 Amer­ican adults behind bars, our incar­cer­a­tion rate is the world’s highest. This fact sheet provides an update to find­ings on state impris­on­ment trends origin­ally outlined in The Reverse Mass Incar­cer­a­tion Act. It analyzes data from all 50 states on impris­on­ment and crime from 2006 (as bipar­tisan crim­inal justice reforms gener­ally began around 2007) through 2014 (the most recent year of data).

Two over­arch­ing find­ings:

1. Many argue that increased incar­cer­a­tion is neces­sary to reduce crime. Yet the data shows the oppos­ite. Over the last ten years, 27 states have decreased both crime and impris­on­ment. Not only is this trend possible, it’s played out in the major­ity of states. Nation­ally, impris­on­ment and crime have fallen together, 7 percent and 23 percent respect­ively since 2006. Crime contin­ued its down­ward trend while incar­cer­a­tion also decreased.

2. In recent years, states in the South have seen some of the largest decreases in impris­on­ment. Yet, they also remain the largest incar­cer­at­ors in the coun­try. Missis­sippi reduced impris­on­ment by 10 percent but still has the nation’s 5th highest incar­cer­a­tion rate. Texas has reduced impris­on­ment by 15 percent yet still has the 7th highest impris­on­ment rate in the coun­try.

Update: Changes in State Impris­on­ment