There Are Fewer People Behind Bars Now Than 10 Years Ago. Will It Last? Census data show incarceration rates are down. It may have more to do with the pandemic than broad reforms.
Nearly two million adults were incarcerated across the country, according to the 2020 Decennial Census. The latest figures show a 13% drop in the total number of incarcerated people, or nearly 300,000 fewer people, compared with the 2010 Census.
Roughly one-third of the drop in total numbers occurred in just two populous states — California and New York. In total, 41 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico saw reductions in the total number of incarcerated people.
In five states, the number of incarcerated people actually increased compared with a decade ago, but the incarceration rate still shrank because their total population grew more quickly than the prison population. Just four states — West Virginia, Alaska, Nebraska and Arkansas — saw their incarceration rate increase.