State prison populations nationwide dropped 14 percent in 2020, a decrease greater than the previous ten years combined. Contrary to popular belief, the decline was not necessarily caused by an increase in prisoner releases, but rather a reduction in prison admissions. That decrease, if maintained, could save states billions of dollars annually, reports Governing.
As the pandemic took hold, thousands of prisoners were released early for health concerns. Between March and June 2020, eight percent of the inmates were released from state and federal prisons.
The Council of State Governments’ (CSG) Justice Center found that the dramatic drop in prison populations resulted from fewer prison admissions, not COVID-related releases. About one-third of the decline can be attributed to a decrease in supervision violations, which had a significant impact on prison admissions and populations.
Reducing the supervision violations population by 57,000 each year could collectively save states $2.7 billion annually.
About 200,000 fewer people were admitted to state prisons in 2020 because of changes in offending behaviors, local law enforcement, community supervision and court operations.
Jessica Saunders of CSG's Justice Center notes that there are two types of supervision violations: technical and committing a new crime. Only a small fraction of individuals on community supervision, about 12 percent of probationers and 27 percent of parolees, commit a violation which results in incarceration.
The recent report found that one-third of states reduced their admissions by more than 33 percent, one-fifth of states reduced admissions between 25-33 percent and fewer than 10 percent of states reported no change or an increase.
The pandemic-related changes accelerated reductions that had already started prior to 2020, according to the Justice Center. There was a five percent decrease in prison admissions for supervision violations from 2018 to 2019,
Overall, there were 31 percent fewer people in prison for technical supervision violations and 18 percent fewer for new offense violations from 2018 to 2020, while all other populations dropped by just 12 percent in that same period.