The number of people in prison in America declined last year for
the second year in a row, according to anew
report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
The number of prisoners at the end of 2011 dropped to just under
1.6 million, a 0.9% decrease over the previous year.
Of those 1.6 million prisoners,
some 330,000 were doing time for drug offenses,
including nearly 95,000 doing federal time.
There were 15,023 fewer inmates at the end of 2011
than a year earlier, but that number is more than
accounted for by a single state, California, which
reported a decline of 15,493 prisoners due primarily
to an incarceration realignment program that has
sent what would have been state prisoners to county
jails instead. Counting just state prison
populations, 2011 saw a decline of 21,164 prisoners,
or 1.5%, again with California accounting for 72% of
Overall, 26 states reported declines in prison
populations, while 24 reported increases. While
overall state prison population numbers are
declining slightly, the federal prison population
continues to increase, largely offsetting the
decline in the states. The federal prison population
increased by 6,591 prisoners, or 3.1%.
The growth in the federal prison population is
largely driven by drug war prisoners. Drug offenders
constitute 48% of all federal inmates, or some
94,600 inmates. By contrast, only 7.6% of federal
inmates are doing time for violent crimes.
Among state prisoners, drug offenders accounted for
17%, or slightly fewer than one out of five. That
means some 235,000 were doing state prison time on
drug charges at the end of 2011, bringing the
combined state and federal total to 330,000. That's
a slight decline over a decade ago, but still
represents incalculable human costs, as well as
easily calculable financial ones.