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Update: Changes in State Imprisonment

Lauren-Brooke Eisen and James Cullen


Today, there are 2.3 million people in the nations 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 worlds highest. 1 Although the U.S. only holds 5 percent of the worlds population, it hosts 25
percent of the worlds incarcerated population.
There are vast consequences to this unprecedented growth in incarceration. America spends $262
billion a year to run its criminal justice system. 2 The toll is not merely fiscal. Prisoners suffer from
wage losses that make reentering the community difficult, and miss out on job opportunities and
public housing options due to criminal records. Therefore, it should not be surprising that 45
percent of prisoners end up back in prison. 3
This fact sheet provides an update to findings on state imprisonment trends originally outlined in
The Reverse Mass Incarceration Act. 4 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, its played out in the majority of states. 5 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 nations 5th highest incarceration rate. Texas
has reduced imprisonment by 15 percent yet still has the 7th highest imprisonment rate in
the country.

Summary of Findings
Figures 1 and 2 and Tables 1 and 2 distill these results:

Since 2006, the national state imprisonment rate has dropped by 7 percent. 28 states reduced
their prison populations. Of those, every state but one (South Dakota) also saw crime drop.
In fact, many states with the most dramatic crime drops also shrank their incarcerated
populations. Large states, such as California (27 percent), New York (18 percent), and Texas
(15 percent) experienced some of the most significant reductions in incarceration while also
experiencing crime drops of over 15 percent each.
Southern states in particular, such as Mississippi (10 percent) and South Carolina (18
percent) have made significant strides in cutting prison populations.

Figure 1: Change in State Imprisonment Rates (2006-2014)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. 6


2

Figure 2: Change in Imprisonment Rates by State (2006-2014)


California
Hawaii
New Jersey
Alaska
Colorado
New York
South Carolina
Connecticut
Texas
Michigan
Nevada
Maryland
Rhode Island
Delaware
Mississippi
Vermont
Wisconsin
Georgia
Washington
Virginia
Iowa
Louisiana
Montana
Massachusetts
Utah
Wyoming
North Carolina
South Dakota
New Mexico
Kansas
Maine
Florida
Idaho
North Dakota
Oregon
Missouri
Kentucky
Ohio
Tennessee
Oklahoma
New Hampshire
Illinois
Alabama
Indiana
Arizona
Minnesota
Pennsylvania
West Virginia
Nebraska
Arkansas
-30%

-20%

-10%

0%

10%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau. 7

20%

30%

Table 1: Prison Population & Rates per 100,000 Residents by State (2006-2014)

State

Massachusetts
Maine
Rhode Island
Minnesota
North Dakota
New Hampshire
Utah
Vermont
New Jersey
Washington
Hawaii
New York
Iowa
Nebraska
Kansas
Connecticut
New Mexico
Maryland
California
North Carolina
Montana
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Alaska
Illinois
Oregon
Colorado
Pennsylvania
Wyoming
South Dakota
South Carolina
Nevada
Michigan
Tennessee
Delaware
Indiana
Ohio
Virginia
Kentucky
Idaho
Florida
Georgia
Missouri
Texas
Arizona
Mississippi
Arkansas
Alabama
Oklahoma
Louisiana

2006 Rate

146
152
203
177
214
209
245
264
317
274
343
325
298
239
320
394
327
398
483
363
377
316
406
460
355
372
473
353
412
425
527
509
512
423
492
413
428
480
462
486
513
566
514
694
542
663
487
599
668
858

2014 Rate

Change in Rate

141
153
178
195
217
220
239
241
242
256
258
265
283
284
322
326
329
347
351
360
361
372
372
374
375
379
385
394
408
423
431
437
438
439
443
444
444
451
475
492
517
520
527
588
597
597
601
634
703
818

-3%
1%
-12%
10%
1%
5%
-2%
-9%
-24%
-7%
-25%
-18%
-5%
19%
1%
-17%
1%
-13%
-27%
-1%
-4%
18%
-8%
-19%
6%
2%
-19%
12%
-1%
0%
-18%
-14%
-14%
4%
-10%
8%
4%
-6%
3%
1%
1%
-8%
3%
-15%
10%
-10%
23%
6%
5%
-5%

2006
Prisoners
9,472
1,997
2,149
9,108
1,363
2,737
6,340
1,634
27,371
17,483
4,373
62,974
8,838
4,204
8,816
13,746
6,361
22,316
173,942
32,219
3,563
5,719
22,618
3,116
45,106
13,667
22,481
43,998
2,114
3,350
22,861
12,691
51,577
25,745
4,195
26,055
49,166
36,688
19,514
7,124
92,874
52,781
30,146
162,193
33,557
19,219
13,713
27,526
23,889
36,376

2014
Prisoners
9,486
2,030
1,880
10,637
1,603
2,915
7,024
1,508
21,590
18,052
3,663
52,399
8,798
5,347
9,365
11,735
6,860
20,733
136,088
35,769
3,699
6,881
21,404
2,754
48,278
15,060
20,646
50,423
2,383
3,605
20,830
12,415
43,359
28,769
4,141
29,261
51,519
37,544
20,969
8,039
102,870
52,485
31,938
158,589
40,175
17,876
17,819
30,766
27,261
38,022

Change in # of
Prisoners
14
33
-269
1,529
240
178
684
-126
-5,781
569
-710
-10,575
-40
1,143
549
-2,011
499
-1,583
-37,854
3,550
136
1,162
-1,214
-362
3,172
1,393
-1,835
6,425
269
255
-2,031
-276
-8,218
3,024
-54
3,206
2,353
856
1455
915
9,996
-296
1,792
-3,604
6,618
-1,343
4,106
3,240
3,372
1,646

Source: U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau. (Chart sorted by 2014 imprisonment rate.)8
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Table 2: Crime Rate per 100,000 Residents by State (2006-2014)


State

Vermont
Maine
New Hampshire
Wyoming
Utah
Virginia
Idaho
Kentucky
Rhode Island
Minnesota
Oregon
Connecticut
North Dakota
Hawaii
Nebraska
Iowa
Ohio
Mississippi
New Jersey
Washington
Colorado
Wisconsin
Montana
South Dakota
West Virginia
Pennsylvania
Kansas
North Carolina
Indiana
Illinois
Georgia
Arizona
New York
Massachusetts
Oklahoma
Texas
Michigan
California
Alabama
Missouri
Maryland
Arkansas
Delaware
South Carolina
Louisiana
Florida
New Mexico
Alaska
Tennessee
Nevada

Violent Crime
Rate (2006)

117.3
90.2
113.3
224.5
191.4
259.8
208.3
238.9
203.4
278.6
251.7
279.9
159.5
253.2
261.3
256.5
319.9
276.1
336.4
305.7
350.0
263.9
340.5
205.4
259.0
413.3
386.4
447.0
292.9
509.8
454.8
502.8
418.8
473.0
458.7
481.4
511.4
508.1
389.4
515.7
657.7
505.6
652.2
728.7
684.2
680.6
599.8
611.6
726.1
705.1

Violent Crime
Rate (2014)

81.7
91.3
151.3
165.7
166.2
168.5
174.9
179.0
185.0
192.5
195.6
215.2
216.6
227.9
234.5
237.2
241.4
243.1
246.9
247.0
252.3
261.2
270.8
271.5
274.7
284.2
300.0
305.2
332.2
337.7
347.1
349.7
354.3
359.0
360.2
363.6
364.0
366.4
386.1
403.7
419.0
420.7
447.8
454.9
485.2
497.4
526.7
531.1
569.8
587.8

Percent
Change

-30%
1%
34%
-26%
-13%
-35%
-16%
-25%
-9%
-31%
-22%
-23%
36%
-10%
-10%
-8%
-25%
-12%
-27%
-19%
-28%
-1%
-20%
32%
6%
-31%
-22%
-32%
13%
-34%
-24%
-30%
-15%
-24%
-21%
-24%
-29%
-28%
-1%
-22%
-36%
-17%
-31%
-38%
-29%
-27%
-12%
-13%
-22%
-17%

Crime Rate
(2006)

Source: F.B.I. Uniform Crime Reports. (Chart sorted by 2014 violent crime.) 9
5

2508.7
2637.0
2095.2
3211.0
3703.9
2749.1
2604.2
2840.6
2818.0
3361.1
3976.8
2866.0
2260.4
4473.1
3621.0
3080.1
4008.1
3466.4
2615.2
4815.8
3788.4
3084.9
3197.2
1971.8
2895.3
2861.6
4158.4
4563.2
3742.4
3529.5
4328.3
5277.0
2483.3
2864.4
4083.2
4564.5
3736.5
3689.9
4330.4
4349.7
4138.7
4491.1
4128.5
5003.2
4765.0
4666.9
4488.1
4189.7
4863.7
4805.9

Crime Rate
(2014)

1606.1
2077.8
2114.0
2130.4
3044.7
2098.8
2029.7
2425.9
2358.6
2490.0
3074.7
2135.6
2326.9
3277.9
2758.0
2330.9
3040.5
3164.3
1981.0
3953.1
2782.5
2349.6
2743.7
2135.3
2309.4
2215.9
3035.2
3178.2
2981.6
2413.6
3628.3
3547.2
2072.5
2216.1
3350.9
3383.0
2407.9
2807.5
3563.7
3310.2
2926.5
3758.7
3429.8
3915.2
3944.0
3912.9
4069.0
3291.2
3630.3
3213.2

Percent
Change

-36%
-21%
1%
-34%
-18%
-24%
-22%
-15%
-16%
-26%
-23%
-25%
3%
-27%
-24%
-24%
-24%
-9%
-24%
-18%
-27%
-24%
-14%
8%
-20%
-23%
-27%
-30%
-20%
-32%
-16%
-33%
-17%
-23%
-18%
-26%
-36%
-24%
-18%
-24%
-29%
-16%
-17%
-22%
-17%
-16%
-9%
-21%
-25%
-33%

State Snapshots
Figure 3 shows examples of states that lowered both imprisonment and crime:

States that lowered both crime and imprisonment rates were politically and geographically
diverse. They include states in the Northeast (N.Y., N.J.), West (Calif., Colo.), and South
(S.C., Texas).
South Carolina saw a 38 percent drop in violent crime, the largest in the nation. It also saw a
substantial 18 percent drop in its prison population, as shown in Table 1. In 2010, South
Carolina enacted new laws to eliminate some mandatory minimum sentences, change lowerlevel property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, and improve their parole and
probation release process. 10 These changes saved the state $18 million over four years, while
crime fell by 22 percent in the same time span. 11
New Jersey has also been a leader on criminal justice reform. Not only has the state lowered
incarceration and crime by 24 percent each, but it also recently passed a bill enacting bail
reform. 12 New Jersey safely downsized its prison population by enhancing the administrative
efficiency of its parole process and increasing flexibility in the sentencing of low-level drug
offenders. 13

Some states increased imprisonment. Figure 4 provides examples:

22 states increased their prison population, and saw crime drop by an average of 20 percent.
Two states separated by many miles, North Dakota and New Hampshire, increased
imprisonment and saw increases in overall crime. These two states also had the largest
increases in violent crime.
Arkansas had the largest imprisonment rate increase in the nation, ballooning by over 20
percent to almost 18,000 prisoners. Its crime rate fell, but at a much slower pace than most
of the rest of the nation (40 states).
Pennsylvanias imprisonment rate grew by 13 percent until 2011. After 2011, it decreased by
2 percent, likely because of legislation passed in 2012 that mandated alternatives to
incarceration for some misdemeanors and increased supervision and resources to those
leaving prison. 14

Figure 3: States that Lowered Imprisonment and Crime (2006-2014)

500
0

3000

200

Crime Rate
Incarceration Rate

100

Crime Rate

6000

3000

300

2500

150

1000
500

350

200

1500

100

Crime Rate

50

Incarceration Rate

South Carolina

1500

500

4000

4000

400

3000

300

100

New York

250
200
150

Crime Rate
Incarceration Rate

Texas

50

800
700
600
500
400

2000

300
Crime Rate
Incarceration Rate

Source: U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, F.B.I. Uniform Crime Reports, and U.S. Census Bureau. 15
7

100

3000

1000

350
300

5000

Crime Rate
Incarceration Rate

1000

5000

1000

100

Incarceration Rate

1500

500

200

Crime Rate

2000

600

2000

200

250

2000

2000

500

Crime Rate

Crime Rate

2500

300

2500

1000

New Jersey

3000

Imprisonment Rate

1500

400

Imprisonment Rate

300

500

200
100
0

Imprisonment Rate

2000

Colorado

3500

Crime Rate

400

2500

1000

500

4000

Imprisonment Rate

Crime Rate

3000

4500

Crime Rate

3500

600

Imprisonment Rate

California

Imprisonment Rate

4000

Figure 4: States that Increased Imprisonment (2006-2014)

2500

500
400

2000

300
Crime Rate

200

Incarceration Rate

100

North Dakota

2500

150

1500
1000
500
0

100
Crime Rate

50

150

1500

100

1000
500

Crime Rate

Pennsylvania

350
300

2000

250

1500

200
150

1000

Crime Rate
Incarceration Rate

Source: U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, F.B.I. Uniform Crime Reports, and U.S. Census Bureau. 16

450
400

2500

500

Incarceration Rate

50

Incarceration Rate

3000

200

2000

2000

3500

250

250
200

Crime Rate

3000

New Hampshire

Incarceratoin Rate

600

3000

1000

Crime Rate

3000

Imprisonment Rate

Crime Rate

4000

700

100
50
0

Imprisonment Rate

Arkansas

Incarceratioin Rate
Crime Rate

5000

Current Imprisonment Rates


Figure 5 maps the most recent imprisonment rates in states:

Imprisonment rates remain high throughout the country. Even states with moderate
imprisonment rates for the United States (between 350-500 per 100,000 people) are high
compared to other western democracies. 17
An increase in imprisonment does not always correlate to a decrease in crime, or vice versa.
For example, Maine held imprisonment constant, but still has the second lowest
imprisonment rate in the nation. On the other hand, Lousiana reduced its use of
imprisonment by five percent, but still has the dubious distintion of having the highest
imprisonment rate in the country. (See Table 1 for additional details.)
Generally, the Northeast is home to the countrys lowest imprisonment rates, while the
South has the highest. There are of course outliers. For example, New Mexico has a low
imprisonment rate and is wedged between Texas and Arizona, which have very high
incarceration rates.

Figure 5: Imprisonment Rate by State (2014)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau. 18

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Conclusion
The United States is taking slow measures to reduce its prison population, without sacrificing the
public safety gains of the last decades. However, as is always the case, the story varies from state to
state. Some states have made marked progess to cut their prison populations, while others continue
to overrely on incarceration.

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ENDNOTES
1

ROY WALMSLEY, INSTITUTE FOR CRIMINAL POLICY RESEARCH, WORLD PRISON BRIEF (2016), available at
http://www.prisonstudies.org/sites/default/files/resources/downloads/world_prison_population_list_11th_edition.pd
f
2 See NICOLE FORTIER AND INIMAI CHETTIAR, SUCCESS-ORIENTED FUNDING: REFORMING FEDERAL CRIMINAL
JUSTICE GRANTS, 3 (2014), available at https://www.brennancenter.org/publication/success-oriented-funding-reformingfederal-criminal-justice-grants.
3 BUREAU OF JUSTICE STATISTICS, RECIDIVISM OF PRISONERS RELEASED IN 30 STATES IN 2005: PATTERNS FROM 2005
TO 2010, 14, (2014), available at http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/rprts05p0510.pdf.
4 Incarceration rates are equal to the number of prisoners in each state sentenced to at least one year in prison divided by
the number of residents (in hundreds of thousands). Six states (AL, CT, DE, HI, RI, and VT) do not distinguish
between jail and prison inmates in their reports of correctional populations. To adjust, imprisonment rates reflect only
those who were sentenced to prison for a year or more.
5 See U.S. CENSUS BUREAU, POPULATION ESTIMATES, HISTORICAL DATA: 2000S (2013), available at
https://www.census.gov/popest/data/historical/2000s/index.html; See U.S. CENSUS BUREAU, POPULATION ESTIMATES,
STATE TOTALS: VINTAGE 2014 (2015), available at https://www.census.gov/popest/data/state/totals/2014/ (showing
2014 population data); BUREAU OF JUSTICE STATISTICS, CORRECTIONS STATISTICAL ANALYSIS TOOL (CSAT)
PRISONERS, available at http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=nps.
6
See note 2.
7 See note 2.
8 See note 2.
9 FED. BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, UNIFORM CRIME REPORTING STATISTICS, STATE-BY-STATE AND NATIONAL CRIME
ESTIMATES BY YEAR(S), http://www.ucrdatatool.gov/Search/Crime/State/StatebyState.cfm (providing state-by-state
data through 2012); FED. BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, UNIFORM CRIME REPORTING STATISTICS, CRIME IN THE
UNITED STATES 2013 (2014), available at https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2013/crime-in-theu.s.-2013; FED. BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, UNIFORM CRIME REPORTING STATISTICS, CRIME IN THE UNITED STATES
2014 (2015), available at https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2014/crime-in-the-u.s.-2014.
Crime rates do not include rape figures because the definition is changed between 2006 and 2014.
10See PEW CTR. ON THE STATES, ISSUE BRIEF: SOUTH CAROLINAS PUBLIC SAFETY REFORM: LEGISLATION ENACTS
RESEARCH-BASED STRATEGIES TO CUT PRISON GROWTH AND COSTS (2010), available at
http://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/wwwpewtrustsorg/reports/sentencing_and_corrections/psp
psouthcarolinabriefpdf.pdf
11 BUREAU OF JUSTICE ASSISTANCE, JUSTICE REINVESTMENT INITIATIVE: SOUTH CAROLINA (2015),
https://www.bja.gov/programs/justicereinvestment/south_carolina.html.
12 DRUG POLICY ALLIANCE, WINNING BAIL REFORM IN NEW JERSEY, http://www.drugpolicy.org/aboutus/departments-and-state-offices/new-jersey/new-solutions-campaign/bail-reform/winning-bail-re.
13 Drug Law Changes, N.Y. State Div. of Crim. Justice Servs., http://www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/drug-law-reform/.
14 See JUSTICE CENTER THE COUNCIL ON STATE GOVERNMENTS, JUSTICE REINVESTMENT IN PENNSYLVANIA: A
COMPREHENSIVE PUBLIC SAFETY PLAN FOR THE COMMONWEALTH 2-3 (2012), available at
https://csgjusticecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/JR_PA_Policy_Framework.pdf.
15 See notes 2, 8.
16 See notes 2, 8.
17 See note 1.
18 See note 2.

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