New data shows continued contraction in the number and rate of Americans being imprisoned. Let’s break it down.
The federal system helpfully updates its inmate count every week, so I was able report on the system up to the present moment. Because the Congress has been so dysfunctional in recent years — even unable to pass criminal justice reform when every key player in the House and Senate supports it — the federal system had been lagging the state-level move toward cutting prison populations, which started around 2008. However, thanks mainly to changes in drug-related sentencing (with icing on the cake from Obama’s clemency initiative), the system is now declining in size at last. The data are summarized below. You can read my full analysis at Washington Post Wonkblog, and read a thoughtful critique of my analysis by Professor Douglas Berman here.
Reporting of state data has a significant lag, so 2016 year end data just came out. What happens in the states matters way, way, more than the federal system because that’s where 7/8 of the prisoners are held. I break down the newly released data in another Washington Post Wonkblog about the now nearly-decade long contraction in that population.
What jumps out the most is the African-American imprisonment rate is at a more than quarter-century low. For Black males, the size of the drop from the peak is equivalent to the entire Black male population age 16 and older of Washington, D.C. plus that of Dallas. There’s a long way to go but this is a big change.
p.s. In addition to comments on the issue, I welcome comments on my charts. Since my Wonkblogs generally only appear on line, I decided to start color coding the text in the chart label to help people tell which line is which. What do you think? Also, like Kevin Drum, I think dual Y-axis charts are boffo. What do you think? Last, I am not mad about the year being in the middle rather the bottom of my federal chart, if anyone knows how to do that I’d appreciate it.
p.p.s. I have updated the second chart based on suggestions. I was not able to implement the suggestion to have only some years on the bottom because when I selected any interval for labels I selected it left off the 2016 label making it seem the data didn’t go as far as it did.