Briefing: ‘Business as Usual’ for Courts – Prison, Jail Populations Increase under ‘Tough on Crime’ Strategies

By The Vanguard Staff

NORTHHAMPTON, MA – Data released late in 2023 from the Bureau of Justice Statistics “show growing prison and jail populations, but this has little to do with crime…the trend reflects court systems’ slow return to ‘business as usual’ and lawmakers’ resurrection of ineffective ‘tough on crime’ strategies, according to a new briefing by the Prison Policy Initiative. 

In local jails, incarcerated women rates increased nearly 10 percent, and Black, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander rates all rose proportionally more than white and Hispanic jail rates, the briefing noted.

“This data has received plenty of headlines, so we wanted to explain what’s driving these increases (and what’s not), and whether they’re likely to continue in the years to come,” said PPI in a statement.

Charging, “Prison and jail populations are undoubtedly growing again,” PPI noted prison populations increased two percent in 2022, and jail populations increased four percent between June 2021 and June 2022. 

And, at the end of 2022, PPI said 42 states and the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) incarcerated more people than at the end of 2021, “notably, 91 percent of prison population growth in 2022 came from just nine states (mostly in the South) and the BOP.”

PPI also declared, “Changes in crime rates are not responsible for increases in incarceration. Many in media and politics have pushed a narrative that crime is skyrocketing, but the data just doesn’t support that. In fact, violent crime victimization rates in 2022 are almost exactly what they were five years ago, and have remained fairly steady over the last 15 years.”

In fact, PPI opines, “Court backlogs drove pandemic-related population decreases, and they’re responsible for prison and jail population increases, too. The pandemic forced delays and cancellations of many court proceedings, and, in many ways, brought the legal system to a halt. 

“As the gears of the justice system began grinding again in late 2020 and 2021, courts have slowly worked through those backlogs, sending more people to prison. This was something we predicted two years ago, and we’re now seeing it play out in the data.”

PPI asserts, “Prison and jail populations will likely continue to grow,” predicting, “after years of decline, the prison and jail populations will almost certainly continue to grow in future years. Part of this is due to the court system getting back to ‘business as usual.’ However, much of it is also caused by a rash of misguided legislation that pushed stiffer prison sentences.”

PPI’s report also notes “many states have rolled back sensible criminal legal system reforms — or worse, have enacted legislation that will keep more people behind bars longer, despite decades of evidence that such policies don’t enhance public safety.”

In 14 states, added PPI, the prison population grew by five percent or more, with just 9 states (mostly in the South) and the BOP accounting for 91 percent of all prison growth nationwide. 

“The number of imprisoned women grew proportionally more than the number of imprisoned men (up five percent compared to two percent). At the end of 2022, 16 states held 90 percent or more of their pre-pandemic (2019) prison populations. 

“Just like the prison population changes we saw during the early and mid-pandemic (2020 and 2021), these increases were driven by changes in admissions more than anything else: 11 percent more people — about 48,000 more — were sent to prison in 2022 than in 2021,” reported PPI.

However, it appears there is, per PPI, “One narrow silver lining from this update: The number of people released from prisons increased for the first time since 2015” (but) “unfortunately, this was only a tiny increase of one percent compared to 2021.”

PPI cited more bad news as it related to local jail populations, noting, “Local jail populations grew at an even faster pace than prisons in 2022; jails held four percent more people at the end of June 2022 than at the end of June 2021.”

And, it appears women incarcerated jumped, growing nine percent compared to three percent for men, said PPI, adding, “Black, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander rates all rose proportionally more than white and Hispanic jail rates.”

“As with prisons, jail growth was driven by a nearly seven percent increase in admissions over last year. The pretrial population was almost back to its full pre-pandemic size (at 97 percent); more than 70 percent of people in jail had not been convicted of a crime. 

“Another contributing factor to jail growth: the use of jail detention as a response to probation violations, up five percent compared to 2021. During the pandemic, many jurisdictions reduced their use of jails for punishing these typically low-level, noncriminal violations, but it appears that costly practice is ‘back to normal,’” said PPI.

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      1. David Greenwald

        First of all, soft on crime isn’t a good description. I think what we’ve learned is that incarceration was over-used and not very effective at either reducing crime or getting individuals not to commit future crimes. There are and more effective ways to do that.

        Second, looking at data during the pandemic is probably useless. Too much in the way of disruption.

        Third, crime is starting to go down in most locations since the end of the pandemic.

        We need to take a data-driven approach and not overly emphasize periods of massive disruption.

        1. Keith Olsen

          We need to take a data-driven approach and not overly emphasize periods of massive disruption.

          Yes, a cherry-picked data driven approach with stats from biased leftist organizations pushing progressive justice policies.

          Everyone, well almost everyone anyway, sees through this.

      2. Walter Shwe

        Yes, a cherry-picked data driven approach with stats from biased leftist organizations pushing progressive justice policies.

        Where is your proof from reliable non-partisian sources Keith, otherwise I am designating your comment as just another of a mammoth number of right wing lies.

        1. Keith Olsen

          Not your cherry-picked progressive think tank data.

          Remember too, many people no longer report crime because they know that progressive DA’s and their lenient policies will no longer hold the perps accountable.

          1. David Greenwald

            For the most part, crime data relies on reporting from local law enforcement and the FBI. It’s not generated by think tanks (it might be interpreted by them however).

            That’s why it’s important to track crime patterns that are not based on reporting to give a better indication of crime.

            Remember too that the retail industry admitted that they greatly overestimated (exaggerated) retail theft.

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