Report: U.S. Jail Population Continues to Decline
(06/08/2011)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. jail inmate population has declined for the second consecutive year, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics announced.

The jail population declined by 2.4 percent in the 12 months ending June 30, 2010, dropping from 767,434 to 748,728. This follows a 2.3 percent decline in 2009 and is the second time the jail population has declined since BJS began the Annual Survey of Jails in 1982. In addition, the jail incarceration rate in 2010 declined to 242 jail inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents — the lowest rate since 2003.

Jails, unlike prisons, are confinement facilities mainly operated by a local law enforcement agency. Jails typically hold inmates while they await court action or serve a sentence of one year or less.

The decline in jail inmates was mostly concentrated in large jail jurisdictions, or those holding 1,000 or more inmates. Among the 170 jail jurisdictions with 1,000 or more inmates on an average day, two-thirds reported a decline. Six jail jurisdictions reported a drop of more than 1,000 inmates, accounting for 46 percent of the decline nationwide.

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Los Angeles County, Calif., with a drop of 3,007 inmates, led the nation in overall decline in its inmate population during the 12 months ending June 30, 2010. Five other jail jurisdictions reported a decline of more than 1,000 inmates during this period, including Maricopa County, Ariz. (down 1,196 inmates); Orange County, Calif. (down 1,143); Philadelphia, Pa. (down 1,111); Fresno County, Calif. (down 1,105); and Harris County, Texas (down 1,096).

Jails were operating at 86 percent of their rated capacity at midyear 2010, the lowest percentage since 1984. The total rated capacity for all jails nationwide reached 866,974 beds at midyear 2010, up from 849,895 beds at midyear 2009, which was a two percent increase in the number of beds.

In 2010, about 61 percent of jail inmates were unconvicted and being held pending arraignment or were awaiting trial or conviction. The remaining 39 percent had been convicted and were awaiting sentencing, were serving a sentence in jail, or were awaiting transfer to serve time in state or federal prison.

Jail authorities were also responsible for supervising more than 60,600 offenders outside of the jail facilities, including 12,300 under electronic monitoring, 9,900 in weekend programs, 14,600 in community service programs, and 9,400 in other pretrial release programs.

During the 12 months ending June 30, 2010, local jails admitted an estimated 12.9 million persons, or about 17 times the size of the midyear inmate population of 748,728 inmates. Nearly four in 10, or 39 percent, of admissions during the last week of June 2010 were to the largest jail jurisdictions. Small jail jurisdictions holding fewer than 50 inmates accounted for about six percent of all jail admissions, but the number of inmates admitted was about 36 times the size of the inmate population at midyear 2010.

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