State Prison Capacity, Overcrowded Prisons Data

Overcrowded prisons are quite common across many states. States like Alabama, for example, have extended prisons far beyond their capacity for years, while California remains subject to a federal order to trim its large prison population.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics compiles prison capacity data from states, with the most recent data current as of the end of 2013. About half of states reporting data then were at 99 percent or more of their operational capacity. Most states expect their prison populations to continue to grow in the coming years, although incarceration rates have recently declined nationally.

How overcrowded a state's prison system is depends on the measure used to define prison capacity -- several definitions are outlined below. Statistics below show the number of inmates in custody as a percentage of a state's prison capacity. Figures are current as of Dec. 31, 2013.

NOTE: Figures not shown were either unavailable or not reported by states. See appendix Table 1 in "Prisoners in 2013" published by BJS for notes on individual states. SOURCE: Bureau of Justice Statistics

Data Definitions

  • Operational Capacity: Number of inmates that "can be accommodated based on a facility's staff, existing programs and services."
  • Rated Capacity: Assigned by rating officials
  • Design Capacity: Refers to how many inmates architects/planners originally intended for facilities


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