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Prison Population Declines in 2016, Reaches 1997 Levels

U.S. prisons saw an overall population decline in 2016, continuing a three-year trend in both federal and state facilities, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report released on Jan. 9.

Overall, there were 21,200 fewer prisoners in 2016 than in 2015, a 1 percent decline. This is an imprisonment rate of 450 per 100,000 population, slightly above 1997 levels (444 per 100,000).

Prisoners in federal facilities declined by 7,263 persons (from 196,455 in 2015 to 189,192 in 2016), while those in state facilities dropped by 13,943 persons (from 1,330,148 to 1,316,205).

In 2016, there were 1,352,684 males (down 1.4 percent from 2015) and 105,489 females (up 0.5 percent) incarcerated, with 439,800 prisoners being white (down 2.3 percent), 486,900 black (down 2.5 percent), and 339,300 Hispanic (up 1.8 percent).

Black prisoners accounted for 41.3 percent of all incarcerated persons in 2016, according to National Prisoner Statistics program data.

By comparison, white prisoners accounted for 39.0 percent, Hispanics for 16.6 percent, and other races accounting for the remaining 3.1 percent.

An overall prison population decline took place in 32 states from 2015 to 2016, while 15 states saw a population increase. Data reporting methods changed or were not available for the remaining three states.

“The states with the largest declines in prisoners included Alabama (down 1,900), Indiana (down 1,800), Oklahoma (down 1,700), and Michigan (down 1,500),” the report said. “Of the 15 states with increasing prison populations from 2015, Georgia had 1,400 additional prisoners on December 31, 2016, and Kentucky added 1,300 prisoners. Washington and California each increased their total prison jurisdiction populations by about 800 from 2015 to 2016.”

Texas had the largest prison population in 2016 with 163,909 incarcerated persons, followed by California (129,593) and Florida (101,424).

Vermont had the smallest prison population in 2016 with 1,750 incarcerated persons, followed by North Dakota (1,795) and Maine (2,279).

Despite the overall decline, there was a 2 percent increase (2,100 persons) in those incarcerated in privately run prison facilities.

The full report is available here.

Editor’s note: EthicsDaily.com’s documentary, “Through the Door,” highlights the faith community’s ministry to persons in prison and upon their release. Details about the film are available here.