California Incarceration Rate Only Topped by U.S. Figures – Dwarfs European Nations

By Audrey Sawyer

EASTHAMPTON, MASS – A larger percentage of individuals are locked up in California than almost any other existing democracy, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, which opposed unnecessary mass incarceration.

The current California incarceration rate is 549 per 100,000 people (numbers which include juvenile justice facilities, immigration detention, prisons, and jails), said PPI.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, CA state prisons make up the largest share of facility lock ups with 131,000 individuals. Local jails rank second with about 82,000, federal prisons at third with 16,000 and then youth at 6,700 and involuntary commitment with 3,600.

Numbers of individuals impacted, notes PPI, is actually, when it comes to county and local jails, a much larger quantity becausesince people go through local jails comparatively fast. Each year is estimated to have at minimum 368,000 various individuals being sent to local jails in California.

The larger cities like Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, and Fresno dominate, said PPI – in fact, though, mass incarceration in California therefore is not simply a “big city” issue.

Incarceration rates for more rural cities and counties also have similarly high imprisonment rates, including Red Bluff, Corcoran, Sonora. Counties and the counties of Kings, Yuba, Tehama, and Shasta.

More disparities involving California incarceration rates are seen when looking by race and ethnicity, said PPI, citing data from 2010 that shows 3,036 Black individuals are incarcerated per 100,000 in the same group.

The next largest quantity is American Indian (and Alaskan Native) at 996 per 100,000 in the same groups. Hispanics have 757 out of 100,000, while those who are white are 453 per 100,000. Black and Latino individuals are overrepresented in California’s incarcerated population while White and Asian individuals are underrepresented, noted PPI.

California was given a grade of “C-” during September 2021 when referring to how COVID was handled and dealt with in prisons, PPI maintains.

And even though California had its prison populations drop by 20 percent, it was still noted by PPI that as of June 2021 the state prison system was holding more than it was originally designed for, notably at 107 percent of design capacity (which had risen from 103 percent in January 2021). Over half of all individuals in California prisons had tested positive for COVID at 52 percent.

Data provided from the Prison Policy Initiative shows a graph comparing California’s incarceration rates against other NATO countries (rates per 100,000 population), and the only country above California in terms of being worse is when looking at the U.S. as a whole.

The U.S. rate is 664 per 100,000, while California is 549 per 100,000.

Incarceration rates for other countries significantly drop off when PPI looked at United Kingdom (129), Portugal (111), Canada (104), France (93), Belgium (93), Italy(89), Luxembourg (86), Denmark (72), the Netherlands (63), Norway(54) and Iceland (33).

About The Author

Audrey is a senior at UC San Diego majoring in Political Science (Comparative Politics emphasis). After graduation, Audrey plans on attending graduate school and is considering becoming a public defender.

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