Public Safety & Justice

U.S. Prison Population Declines for 3rd Year

The United States prison population fell by 1.7 percent to 1,571,013 between the end of 2011 and the end of 2012, according to a new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, marking the third consecutive year of decline in the U.S. prison population.
July 26, 2013

The United States prison population fell by 1.7 percent to 1,571,013 between the end of 2011 and the end of 2012, according to a new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, marking the third consecutive year of decline in the U.S. prison population.

There were 27,770 fewer people imprisoned at the end of last year compared to the previous year. Nine states saw their prison populations decline by more than 1,000 people in 2012: California, Texas, North Carolina, Colorado, Arkansas, New York, Florida, Virginia and Maryland.

The recent decline in prison population follows an explosion in incarceration since the late 1970s. The prison population grew every year between 1978 and 2009, according to the BJS, rising from 307,276 to a high of 1,615,487.

According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, the United States has the highest percentage of prisoners in the world, at 716 prisoners per 100,000 people. (The finding does not take the latest decline into account.) A January PolitiFact report found that while the United States has the highest percentage of people in prison of any nation that can be verified, North Korea may have a higher percentage of people in prison.

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