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Corrections Population Steady During 2021 Despite COVID

Despite some predictions that the nation's correctional population might fall sharply during the COVID pandemic, the total dropped only one percent in the pandemic's first full calendar year, reports the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.


The number of people held in prison or jail or supervised in the community on probation or parole decreased by 61,100, down to about 5,444,900.


One in 48 U.S. residents age 18 or older were under correctional supervision at yearend 2021, down from 1 in 47 in 2020. “Although the COVID-19 pandemic caused significant short-term changes in correctional estimates, the overall correctional population continues to decline,” said BJS Director Alexis Piquero.


In the 2011 to 2021 decade, the correctional population declined 22 percent. A drop in the number of persons supervised in the community on probation accounted for 65 percent of the overall change.


The U.S. incarceration rate increased in 2021 for the first time in 15 years. The rate was lower than the pre-COVID-19 pandemic rate of 810 per 100,000 in 2019. The increase in the incarceration rate was driven by a 16 percent growth in the number of persons housed in local jails, which held an additional 87,200 persons from 2020 to 2021.


In 2021, the community supervision rate fell to a 21-year low of 1,440 persons on probation or parole per 100,000 adult U.S. residents. The rate has fallen each year since it peaked at 2,240 persons per 100,000 in 2007.


At yearend 2021, an estimated 3,745,000 adults were under community supervision, down 136,600 persons from January 1, 2021. During 2021, the probation population decreased in 31 states and in the U.S. federal system and increased in 18 states and the District of Columbia.


The rate of adults on probation in 2021 was at its lowest point in 36 years (1,143 per 100,000 adult U.S. residents).


From 2011 to 2021, among adults on probation whose most serious offense was known, the percentage supervised for a violent offense rose from 18 percent to 26 percent.


At yearend 2021, 803,200 adults were on parole supervision, a decrease of seven percent from January 1, 2021, the largest annual change since 1992. The parole population in 2021 was at its lowest point since 2006, when 798,200 persons were supervised on parole.


Compared with 2011, the number of men under correctional supervision in 2021 declined by 21 percent and women decreased 25%. Over the same decade, the number of black persons under correctional supervision decreased more than 27 percent, while the number of Hispanic persons declined 21 percent and whites declined 20 percent.


“It is important to note that while blacks and Hispanics remain incarcerated at greater rates than whites, we are seeing long-term reductions in those differences,” Piquero said.

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