Jail Inmates Decrease by 93,000 Inmates-2,700,000 Fewer Admissions to Jails When Compared to Peak Years


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. Post-Master’s certificate-Johns Hopkins University.

End of Series on Correctional Populations

This is the last in a series of articles on correctional populations. They include an analysis of prison populations, US Prisons, overall correctional populations, Corrections, and parolees returning to prison,  Parolees.


The peak year for jail populations was 2008 when jails held 786,000 inmates. There were 693,000 jail inmates at year-end 2015, for a difference of 93,000 offenders (based on average daily population).

The peak year for annual admissions to jails was in 2008 when there were 13,600,000. When compared to 2015 (10,900,000), there was a difference of 2,700,000 offenders being admitted to jails.

Admissions are defined as persons who are officially booked and housed in jails by formal legal document and the authority of the courts or some other official agency. Jail admissions include persons sentenced to weekend programs and those who are booked into the facility for the first time. Excluded from jail admissions are inmates reentering the facility after an escape, work release, medical appointment or treatment facility appointment, and bail and court appearances.

68% of jail inmates in 2015 were held for a felony offense

In addition to the confined jail population at year-end 2015, jail authorities also supervised 57,100 persons in various programs outside of the jail, including electronic monitoring, home detention, day reporting, community service, treatment programs, and other pretrial and work programs. On average, jails supervised an estimated 66,000 non-confined persons each year between 2000 and 2015.


There was a difference of 2,700,000 offenders being admitted to jails from the peak year of 2008 compared to 2015.

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, jail 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.

Jail Reforms-Bail Reform: Many advocates 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 supervised 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.

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.

Mayors and Governors: Support for this argument came from the nation’s mayors and governors who felt that their budgets were hampered by corrections spending. They demanded cuts.

Advocacy groups: There are wide arrays of advocacy groups pressing for very deep cuts in correctional populations.

Fewer returns from parole and probation: Declines in the jail 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 jail and prison and reserving jail or prison beds for violent or repeat violent offenders (which describes the vast majority of those currently incarcerated). 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.

USDOJ Report

Nearly 7 in 10 inmates were held in jail for a felony offense.

Since 2005, more than 60% of all jail inmates were awaiting court action on a current charge.

About 4 in 10 inmates were sentenced offenders or convicted offenders awaiting sentencing.

The growth in the overall jail inmate population since 2000 was due to the increase in the unconvicted population.

Regardless of conviction status, about 68% of jail inmates in 2015 were held for a felony offense, and the remaining 32% were held for either misdemeanor (27%) or other offenses (5%).

The average daily population (ADP) of jail inmates in 2015 (721,300) remained stable from 2011 to 2015 after peaking in 2008 (776,600).

The ADP jail population count is a fraction of the number of inmates flowing into jail each year. In 2015, there were 10.9 million admissions to jails.

From 2008 to 2015, the volume of admissions to jails steadily declined. The number of admissions to jail in 2015 was nearly 15 times the size of ADP in 2015.

The jail incarceration rate—the confined population per 100,000 U.S. residents—decreased from a peak in 2006 through 2008 (260 per 100,000) to 230 per 100,000 at midyear 2015.

This was the lowest rate since midyear 2000 (220 per 100,000).

The adult incarceration rate for persons age 18 or older also declined from a peak of 340 per 100,000 in 2006 through 2008 to about 300 per 100,000 each year since 2013.

Source: Jail Inmates-USDOJ

Crime in America at http://crimeinamerica.net

Contact us at crimeinamerica@gmail.com.

Media on deadline use leonardsipes@gmail.com.

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