U.S. Jail Population Inches Up, Reversing 3-Year Trend
California’s ongoing effort to reduce crowding in its state prison system was credited as the major factor in decreasing the nation’s total prison population in 2012.
However, many of those California offenders ended up instead in the Golden State’s jails – and that surge helped fuel an increase in the number of jail inmates in the United States in 2012, according to federal researchers.
After three straight years of decline, the U.S. jail population rose by 1.2% between mid-2011 and mid-2012, taking the total number to 744,524 inmates in municipal and county jails, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported. By comparison, the average daily inmate population fell by 1.8% from mid-2010 to mid-2011.
Of the nationwide increase of 8,923 inmates last year, approximately 7,600 were in California.
California is under a federal order to reduce its prison population to 137.5% of original design capacity by January 2014. One way state officials have sought to comply with that mandate is by keeping certain low-level nonviolent offenders and parole violators in county jails. That initiative, known as Public Safety Realignment, helped reduce the state’s prison population by about 15,035 inmates in 2012.
County and city jails generally hold defendants awaiting resolution of their court cases and offenders who have been sentenced to a year or less of incarceration. Felony offenders, those serving terms of more than one year behind bars, are typically sent to state prisons.
The BJS report also found that jails holding 1,000 or more inmates accounted for 91% of the total increase in the U.S. inmate population. Such jails held about 50% of the overall jail population at mid-2012, but accounted for less than 10% of all jails in the United States.
As of mid-2012, roughly six of 10 jail inmates were awaiting trial, with the remainder either serving a county jail sentence or waiting for transfer to a state facility. Those rates have not changed since 2005, according to the BJS.
Nationwide, jails admitted 11.6 million inmates during the 12-month period from mid-2011 to mid-2012, about 2 million less than in 2008.
Even with the increase in the average daily inmate population, jails were operating at 84% of capacity in mid-2012, the lowest rate since 1984. Males accounted for 87% of inmates in mid-2012, while whites comprised 46% of all U.S. jail inmates, blacks 37% and Hispanics 15%.