Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Graduate-Post Master’s degree-Johns Hopkins University.
By correctional supervision, we mean those on community supervision (parole and probation), jails and prisons.
There were 7,400,000 people under correctional supervision at its peak in 2007 and 6,741,000 people under correctional supervision in 2016 for a reduction of 659,000.
There were 786,000 people in local jails in at its peak in 2008 and 728,000 in 2015 for a reduction of 58,000.
There were 4,293,000 on probation in the peak year of 2007 and 3,790,000 in 2015 for a reduction of 503,000 people.
The prison population reached a historic high of 1,615,000 in 2009; currently, the number is 1,527,000 in 2015, a drop of 88,000.
After years of increases in the raw numbers (highs from 2007 to 2009), the correctional population (prisons, jails, parole and probation) has steadily decreased. Use of parole increased.
What impacted these numbers?
Crime declines: With a few exceptions, crime steadily decreased for the last two decades, see Crime Rates-Crime in America. Declining rates of crime were expected to have an impact on the numbers of offenders coming into the criminal justice system.
Crime rising: We are now seeing historic declines in probation, jails and prisons just as violent crime increased in the United States in 2015 and 2016, see Crime Rates-Crime in America. It will be interesting to see if declines continue under the Trump administration.
A philosophical battle: A battle for the hearts and minds of the American public and criminal justice community has been waged for decades with the philosophical argument that the United States over-charges, over-prosecutes, over-jails and over-incarcerates.
Governors: Support for this argument came from the nation’s governors who felt that their budgets were hampered by corrections spending. They demanded cuts.
Advocacy groups: There is a wide array of advocacy groups pressing for very deep cuts in correctional populations, up to 50 percent.
Fewer returns from parole and probation: Declines in the prison population have something to do with those on parole and probation returning to incarceration. In 2015, the rate of re-incarceration for those previously released from prison was 14 exits per 100. The rate remained unchanged from 2013 to 2014 but declined from 25 per 100 in 2005. There has been a steady decrease in the use of incarceration for those on parole since 2005, see Returns to Incarceration-Crime in America.
Sentencing reform: Sentencing reform has been an ongoing effort in most states with an emphasis of diverting lower-level offenders from prison and reserving prison for violent or repeat violent offenders. Some states (i.e., California) are diverting many convicted from prison to jails. As the DOJ report points out, this is having an impact. Questions have also been raised as to the need to arrest or prosecute with many offenders being diverted.
Parole Increases: The use of parole increased because advocates, governors and sentencing reformers wanted greater discretion, and the fact that those on parole generally do better than those released without conditions.
Jail Reforms-Bail Reform: Many advocates and journalists have asked why so many people need to be held in jail. They point out that those charged with crimes are innocent until proven guilty, and that bail or pretrial release should be offered to the vast majority of defendants unless they are proven to be a danger to the community or a flight risk.
At year-end 2015, an estimated 6,741,400 persons were under the supervision of U.S. adult correctional systems, about 115,600 fewer persons than year-end 2014.
This was the first time since 2002 (6,730,900) that the correctional population fell below 6.8 million.
The population declined by 1.7% during 2015, which was the largest decline since 2010 (down 2.1%).
This was the lowest rate observed since 1994, when about 1 in 38 adults (1.6 million fewer persons) were under correctional supervision in the nation.
At yearend 2015, an estimated 6,741,400 persons were supervised by U.S. adult correctional systems, a decrease of about 115,600 persons from year-end 2014.
About 1 in 37 adults (or 2.7% of adults in the United States) was under some form of correctional supervision at yearend 2015, the lowest rate since 1994.
The U.S. correctional population declined 1.7% during 2015 due to decreases in both the community supervision (down 1.3%) and incarcerated (down 2.3%) populations.
By yearend 2015, the community supervision population (4,650,900) fell to the lowest level since 2000 (4,564,900).
The incarcerated population in 2015 (2,173,800) fell to the lowest levels since 2004 (2,136,600).
All of the decrease in the community supervision population during 2015 was due to a drop in the probation population (down 2.0%).
The decline in the incarcerated population in 2015 (down 51,300) represented the largest annual decrease since 2009.
In 2015, the majority (69%) of the decline in the incarcerated population resulted from the drop in the prison population (down 35,500).
The number of persons under supervision in the community fell by 62,300 to 4,650,900 at year-end 2015.
Since 2007, the community supervision population decreased by an annual average of 1.2%.
By year-end 2015, the number of offenders under community supervision declined to the lowest level observed since 2000 (4,564,900).
At year-end 2015, an estimated 2,173,800 persons were either under the jurisdiction of state or federal prisons or in the custody of local jails in the United States, down about 51,300 persons compared to year-end 2014.
This was the largest decline in the incarcerated population since it first decreased in 2009. By year-end 2015, the number of persons incarcerated in state or federal prisons or local jails fell to the lowest level observed since 2004 (2,136,600).
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