A cutting-edge data visualization tool and evidence brief released by the Vera Institute of Justice show the number of people in prison nationally continued its gradual annual decline in 2018 from its 2009 peak.
Arguing that “effective advocacy and policy making require up-to-date information,” co-authors Jacob Kang-Brown, Eital Schattner-Elmaleh, and Oliver Hinds, assessed prison population changes from 2017 to 2018 across all 50 states and the federal Bureau of Prisons.
Importantly, they noted that a fixation on the national trendline obscures a more nuanced picture of state-level change. The falling national incarceration rate in 2018—20,000 fewer people, a 1.8 percent overall decrease relative to the population—was driven mainly by a substantial drop-off in the federal Bureau of Prisons and a handful of key states, including the incarceration heavyweights New York, Missouri, and the Carolinas.
Nineteen states, mostly in the Midwest, Appalachia, and the Rockies, appeared to fetter the downward national trendline by increasing their incarceration rates in 2018.
Thus, while the nation’s incremental decrease in incarceration in 2018 falls in line with the overall 8.5 percent decrease over the past decade, the full report and data visualization tool highlight that there remains substantial work to do across state jurisdictions to further chip away at mass incarceration.
The tool and evidence brief can be accessed on Vera’s website.
Roman Gressier is a TCR contributor and news intern. He worked as an applied research fellow with Vera’s Policing Program from 2017-2018.