State, Federal Prison Populations Decline Simultaneously for First Time in 36 Years

WASHINGTON—State and federal prison populations both declined in 2014, marking the first tandem decrease since the Bureau of Justice Statistics began tracking the numbers in 1978, according to a report the bureau released Thursday. The combined decrease of more than 15,000 inmates—the second-biggest annual reduction on record—brings the nation’s prison population to its lowest level since 2005 and accompanies a nationwide reduction in crime.

The overall state prison population began declining in 2010 before rising slightly in 2013. In 2014, it fell in 24 states by a total of 10,100 inmates, according to the report. For the second consecutive year, the federal inmate count also decreased, by 5,300 prisoners.

The 2014 decline also was the sixth consecutive reduction in the nation’s imprisonment rate, which fell to 471 inmates per 100,000 residents, or 7 percent below its 2007 and 2008 peak (506 inmates per 100,000 residents). Crime trends have paralleled this reduction in imprisonment. Violent and property crime rates declined in 2014 for the fifth time in seven years and are now 26 and 24 percent, respectively, below their 2007 levels, according to an annual crime victimization survey released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in August.1

Since 2007, more than half the states have enacted policy reforms to control corrections growth, contain taxpayer costs, and improve public safety using evidence-based policies. These reforms—known collectively as “justice reinvestment”—vary from state to state, but all aim to use limited prison space for violent and career criminals, move lower-level offenders into less-costly and more-effective alternatives, and invest the savings into programs that reduce recidivism.

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  1. The federal government issues two annual reports on national crime trends: the National Crime Victimization Survey, which includes reported and unreported crimes and is produced by the Bureau of Justice Statistics; and the Uniform Crime Report, which includes only reported crimes and is produced by the FBI. In this analysis, Pew cited the National Crime Victimization Survey because it includes data from 2014. The Uniform Crime Report for 2014 is scheduled for release in late September.

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