National Prison Count Declined 1 Percent in 2016

It was the third consecutive year that the total of state and federal prisoners dropped. Much of the change was due to a major drop during the Obama administration of 7,300 federal prisoners. The federal system remains the nation’s largest, with about 60,000 more than are behind bars in California.

The number of state and federal prisoners declined by 1 percent from year-end 2015 to 2016, reports the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. It was the third consecutive year that the U.S. prison population declined.

State and federal prisons held about 1,505,400 prisoners in 2016, 21,200 fewer than in 2015. The population of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) accounted for more than a third of the total change in the prison population, dropping by 7,300 prisoners, from 196,500 to 189,200.

While the overall prison population decreased, the number of prisoners held in private facilities increased 2 percent in 2016.

States with the largest prisoner totals were Texas, with 163,703 (down from 2015), California, with 130,390 (up from 2015), Florida, with 99,974 (down from 2015), Georgia, with 53,627 (up from 2015), and Ohio, 52,175 (down from 2015.)

Because the report included totals from slightly more than a year ago, they are somewhat out of date.

The report included only counts of prison inmates. A separate compilation on local jail inmates found 721,300 in 2015, meaning that the prisoner count in the U.S. still exceeds 2 million.

Some reform advocates will find it encouraging that the total prisoner count in the U.S. continues to decrease. Others says that the decline is marginal and that much more needs to be done to reduce the nation’s “mass incarceration.”

State and federal prisons admitted 2,300 fewer prisoners in 2016 than in 2015, the BJS report said. Federal prisons, where admissions were down 2,200, accounted for the vast majority of the decline.

Some fifty-four of state prisoners were serving sentences for violent offenses at year-end 2015, the most recent data available. Nearly half of federal prisoners had been sentenced for drug offenses as of Sept. 30, 2016. More than 99 percent of those drug sentences were for trafficking.

In 2016, the national rate at which people were sentenced to more than one year in state or federal prison was the lowest since 1997. There were 450 prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents held in state and federal prisons in 2016, compared to 444 prisoners per 100,000 in 1997.

The rate of imprisonment decreased 4 percent for black adults (from 1,670 to 1,608 per 100,000), 2 percent for white adults (from 281 to 274 per 100,000) and 1 percent for adult Hispanic prisoners (from 862 to 856 per 100,000).

During the decade between 2006 and 2016, the rate of imprisonment decreased 29 percent for black adults, 15 percent for white adults and 20 percent for Hispanic adults.

At year-end 2016, more than 21 percent of federal prisoners were non-U.S. citizens, a figure that excluded persons detained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.