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There were 1.20 million people in prison in the US in 2021, or 363 for every 100,000 people. The prison and overall correctional population, including those in jail and on probation and parole, has decreased over time.

How much has the prison population gone down?

Between 2011 and 2021, the prison population decreased by 25%. Although the total population grew, the number of prisoners per 100,000 people declined 29% over that time period. The total correctional population peaked in 2007, but the populations within each category of corrections have dropped since then. Those in jail totaled 636,300 in 2021, or 192 people for every 100,000, the second-lowest jail incarceration rate since 1996.

The difference between jail and prison has to do with the stage of adjudication — the legal process involving the court system — and length of sentencing, as well as who operates the facility. Jails hold people before and after adjudication for a term of one year or less, and they are typically operated by local law enforcement. Prisons hold people who have been convicted of a crime for a term of one year or more, and they are typically operated by a state-level Department of Corrections or the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Why is the prison population falling?

In addition to falling crime rates, COVID-19 contributed to a reduction in the incarcerated population. In 2020, in an attempt to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the incarcerated population, numerous prisons expedited the release of prisoners, resulting in prison populations decreasing in 49 states. From February 2020 to February 2021, the prison population declined by 16%.

How much are crime rates dropping?

Overall crime rates have been dropping for decades: Between 1990 and 2020, violent crime and property crime rates both dropped more than 45%. In 2021, the property crime rate was 1,933 crimes per 100,000 people. The violent crime rate has consistently been lower than property crime, with a rate of 396 incidents per 100,000 in 2021.

Preliminary data shows that at the end of 2022, there were 1,230,100 people in prison in the US, a 2% increase from 2021.

For more information and data on the incarcerated population, check out the America in Facts 2023 report and sign up for our newsletter.