As jail populations declined due to the pandemic, racial inequity worsened
despite record numbers of decarceration, racial disparity in jails and prisons only worsened during the pandemic, according to a new study from the Vera Institute.
The total number of incarcerated people in state and federal prisons declined by 14% from 2.1M in 2019 to 1.8 by June 2020.
This is a 23% decline from the peak of incarceration of 2.3M people in 2008.
From state and federal prisons only, there was a 17% decrease between December 2019 and spring of 2020.
Total jail populations decreased by 24% from around 758, 400 people in June 2019 to an estimated 573, 400 in June 2020.
Evidence from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that racial inequity has worsened even though jail populations decreased through June 2020.
There was a bigger decrease in jail populations in rural areas than cities, but it quickly recovered; the rural jail population declined by 34% from 2019 to 2020 but increased by 11% from mid-year 2020 to early 2021.
Urban and mid-sized metro areas did not reduce jail incarceration as much as other regions; urban counties declined by 12% and suburban areas by 10%.
The number of people detained with the U.S. Marshals Service for federal criminal charges is at its all-time high.
Half of the people detained before their trial by the USMS are held in local, often rural, jails.
Southern states had prison incarceration rates of 408 people in prison per 100,000 residents.
Midwest states had prison incarceration rates of 300 people in prison per 100,000 residents, and 188 in the Northeast.
Rates of prison incarceration declined by 26% in the Northeast, 20% in the West, and 16% and 17% in the South and Midwest.
Overall jail and prison population changes have shown heightened political, economic, and social orientations toward punishment and detention. The report notes that at the federal level, neither the Biden administration nor Congress has taken action that shows a commitment to sustaining decarceration.
Read the full study here.
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