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U.S. Jail Inmate Totals Up 16% Last Year; Prison Count Dropped 1%

The number of U.S. jail inmates increased 16 percent last year while the prison inmate total fell one percent, says the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Both populations decreased from 2019 to 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Local jails held 636,300 people on the last weekday in June 2021, up from 549,100 at midyear 2020. The number of men in local jails increased 15 percent from 2020 to 2021, while women increased 22 percent. The racial and ethnic composition of people held in jails remained stable from 2020 to 2021. About 49 percent in local jails were white, 35 percent were black, and 14 percent were Hispanic. Some 29 percent of jail inmates were convicted, either serving a sentence or awaiting sentencing on a conviction, while 71 percent were awaiting court action on a current charge or held in jail for other reasons. Unconvicted people in jail accounted for 81 percent of the increase in the jail population from midyear 2020 to midyear 2021.


For the eighth consecutive year, the number of persons held in U.S. prisons declined, dropping from 1,221,200 at yearend 2020 to 1,204,300 at yearend 2021. Prison totals dropped in 32 states and rose in 17 states and the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). Between 2019 and 2020, 49 states and the BOP reported decreases largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The imprisonment rate for adult U.S. residents in state or federal prison serving a sentence of more than one year dropped two percent. Over the decade from 2011 to 2021, the adult imprisonment rate declined 30 percent. Among racial and ethnic groups, blacks had the highest imprisonment rate in 2021 (1,186 per 100,000 adult black residents), followed by American Indian/Alaska Natives (1,004 per 100,000), Hispanics (619 per 100,00), whites (222 per 100,000) and Asians (90 per 100,000). More than 651,800 persons (62% of state prisoners) were serving sentences for a violent offense at yearend 2020, the most recent year for which offense data were available. Forty-seven percent (66,500) of federal prisoners were serving time for a drug offense on September 30, 2021, and an additional 20% (28,500) of persons sentenced to federal prison were serving a sentence for a weapons offense. At yearend 2021, private facilities held 96,700 persons, a 3 percent decrease from yearend 2020. Together, private and local facilities housed more than 13 percent of the total U.S. prison population in 2021.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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