NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Incarceration Rate Increases are Lowest Since 1972

July 31, 2002

The nation's prison population grew last year at the lowest rate since 1972 and the increase was numerically the smallest since 1979, reports the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Yet, crime has begun to grow again after a decade of decline.

Authorities explain the seemingly contradictory trends to the lag time between when a crime is committed and when criminals are actually sentenced to prison.

  • Altogether, there were 2.1 million convicts in state and federal prisons and local jails at the end of 2001 -- an increase of only 1.1 percent over the year before.
  • In the last six months of 2001, the number of state prison inmates actually fell by 3,700.
  • Texas, which has the nation's largest prison population, also had the largest drop in inmates last year as it speeded up inmate release on parole and sent fewer parole violators back to prison due to budgetary concerns.
  • Decreases in inmate populations were common in large, populous states -- balanced by increases in smaller states like West Virginia, which had the largest proportional increase at 9.3 percent.

After more than two decades of enormous growth in the prison population, which has quadrupled since the 1970s, the report concludes that prison populations are stabilizing.

Source: Fox Butterfield, "1 Percent Increase in U.S. inmates Is Lowest Rate in Three Decades," New York Times, July 31, 2002; Allen J. Beck and Paige M. Harrison, "Prisoners in 2001," (NCJ-195189), Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice.


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