Prison Population Fell Last Year For Fifth Straight Year

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prison mentee

Participant in re-entry mentoring program at Louisiana’s Angola Prison. (Photo by Clark Giles/courtesy Equal Justice Initiative)

The nation’s prison population in the U.S. declined from 1,464,400 at year-end 2018 to 1,430,800 at year-end 2019, a two percent decrease, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics said Thursday.

Last year marked the fifth consecutive annual decrease of at least one percent in the
prison population. At year-end 2019, the prison population had declined 11 percent from its peak of 1,615,500 prisoners in 2009.

The prison population has continued to drop during the pandemic, but current national totals are not available.

The combined state and federal imprisonment rate of 419 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents in 2019 was the lowest imprisonment rate since 1995.

The imprisonment rate in 2019 marked a 17 percent decrease from 2009 and a three percent decrease from 2018, and it was the 11th consecutive annual decrease. The imprisonment rate—the portion of residents  in prison—is based on prisoners sentenced to more than one year.

The imprisonment rate rose 23 percent from 1995 to its peak in 2007 and 2008 (506 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 residents in both years). It then fell below the 1996 level (427 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 residents) in 2019. Across the decade from 2009 to 2019, the imprisonment rate fell 29 percent among Blacks, 24 percent among Hispanics and 12 percent among white.

In 2019, the imprisonment rate of blacks was the lowest it has been in 30 years, since 1989.

Privately operated facilities held seven percent of state prisoners and 16 percent of federal prisoners in 2019. Public and private adult prisons held 653 prisoners age 17 or younger at year-end 2019, down 11 percent from the 730 held at year-end 2018.

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