The number of inmates in state and federal prisons in the U.S. declined last year for the second year in a row but only by a small number and most of that was due to one state–California–the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reported today. Overall, 26 states reported fewer inmates and 24 reported more than the previous year, as did the federal prison system. The result was a net loss of 21,663 of of a total of nearly 1.6 million.
California had a 10% prisoner drop because of a “realignment” scheme after the Supreme Court ordered a reduction in prisoner rolls in 2011 in which counties assumed responsibility for incarcerating many convicts in local jails. Malcolm Young of Northwestern University law school, who follows prison population trends, noted that if California were excluded from the count, the nation’s prison population was virtually unchanged last year. Critics of the nation’s mass incarceration numbers will welcome the decrease after many years of prison growth. Young said that only six states have cut their prison numbers to the levels of 2000: New York, New Jersey, Michigan, California, Connecticut, and Maryland.