Since you asked: How many people are released from each state’s prisons and jails every year?

The number of people going through reentry each year vastly exceeds the resources available to them in most communities.

by Wendy Sawyer, August 25, 2022

The key role of reentry programs and services in the success of people released from prisons and jails cannot be overstated. People returning to their communities from even relatively short periods of incarceration often have acute needs related to health, employment, housing, education, family reunification, and social supports – not to mention challenges obtaining essential documents like birth certificates, Social Security cards, and driver’s licenses or other identification. The service gaps between these predictable needs and the resources available to people in the critical time period following release contributes directly to both early deaths and the cycle of re-incarceration (“recidivism”) for far too many people.

In 2019, we wrote about the extreme gap between needed and available reentry services for women, who report a higher need for services than men, but who are frequently overlooked in reentry programs targeted at the much larger population of incarcerated men.

Since that publication, journalists, advocates, and service providers have reached out asking about the total number of people released from prisons and jails in their state each year. While these are numbers you might expect would be easy to find, they aren’t published regularly in annual reports on prison and jail populations by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. In fact, the annual data collected by the federal government about local jails (the Annual Survey of Jails) cannot generally be broken down by state; only the more infrequently-collected Census of Jails data can be used to make state-level findings.

map showing the number of people released from state prisons in each state in 2019 Annual releases from state and federal prisons as of 2019. This map doesn’t include people who are released from local jails, which experience much higher rates of population turnover (sometimes referred to as “jail churn”) due to shorter average length of stay.

To aid those who need these statistics to make the case for devoting more resources to reentry services, or simply wish to understand the scale of reentry in their state, we compiled the most recent available Bureau of Justice Statistics data about releases from both prisons and jails, by state:

Releases from prisons and jails in 2019, by state or other jurisdiction

Bureau of Justice Statistics sources: 2019 National Prisoner Statistics (for prisons); and 2019 Census of Jails (for jails). Deaths in prison, which are generally included in prison release data, were excluded from state release totals to better reflect the “reentry” population. Local jail data were weighted and aggregated to the state level by the Prison Policy Initiative. Note that in most states, jails and prisons are operated by distinct systems, with local city or county authorities operating jails and state correctional agencies operating prisons. But “jail” data is not readily available in six states – Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont – because those states operate combined or “unified” prison and jail systems, and the “jail” portion of those systems is not represented in the relevant national Bureau of Justice Statistics data collections. For that reason, the population released from “jails” (i.e., people detained pretrial or serving sentences of 1 year or less) is marked as “N/A” in the jail releases column above. Alaska is a partial exception among these states, because there are still 14 locally operated jails that report data separately from the unified system. For more details, see the original sources linked above. *Note about D.C. prison releases: The District’s prison population is part of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) system. Releases of individuals from the federal system to D.C. are included in the Federal (BOP) data in the table above; however, the BOP also publishes state-specific release information for every month since January 1992 on its website. In 2019, 1,717 people were released from BOP custody to D.C.
State Prison releases Jail releases Total releases
Alabama 12,920 285,461 298,381
Alaska 1,714 5,284 6,998
Arizona 12,933 189,370 202,303
Arkansas 10,259 170,060 180,319
California 37,462 949,971 987,433
Colorado 9,840 217,597 227,437
Connecticut 4,473 N/A 4,473
Delaware 2,269 N/A 2,269
District of Columbia N/A* 10,473 10,473
Federal (BOP) 50,692 N/A 50,692
Florida 29,737 656,962 686,699
Georgia 17,200 576,856 594,056
Hawaii 1,654 N/A 1,654
Idaho 4,416 70,068 74,484
Illinois 23,791 253,962 277,753
Indiana 10,988 243,482 254,470
Iowa 7,114 133,703 140,817
Kansas 6,007 159,332 165,339
Kentucky 19,580 291,455 311,035
Louisiana 16,835 249,332 266,167
Maine 755 31,032 31,787
Maryland 7,408 79,185 86,593
Massachusetts 2,362 59,477 61,839
Michigan 11,440 280,341 291,781
Minnesota 6,964 201,329 208,293
Mississippi 6,971 149,942 156,913
Missouri 18,533 264,369 282,902
Montana 2,475 42,423 44,898
Nebraska 2,336 66,855 69,191
Nevada 6,646 157,020 163,666
New Hampshire 1,339 22,417 23,756
New Jersey 8,182 118,749 126,931
New Mexico 3,528 112,716 116,244
New York 20,791 167,614 188,405
North Carolina 17,106 382,070 399,176
North Dakota 1,358 46,509 47,867
Ohio 20,275 396,059 416,334
Oklahoma 9,365 207,432 216,797
Oregon 5,870 182,921 188,791
Pennsylvania 17,897 201,432 219,329
Rhode Island 720 N/A 720
South Carolina 6,208 181,834 188,042
South Dakota 4,576 66,673 71,249
Tennessee 14,205 397,931 412,136
Texas 78,119 993,910 1,072,029
Utah 4,017 96,963 100,980
Vermont 2,528 N/A 2,528
Virginia 12,602 284,217 296,819
Washington 24,455 266,757 291,212
West Virginia 4,124 45,942 50,066
Wisconsin 5,820 207,820 213,640
Wyoming 1,010 28,422 29,432
Total 610,235 10,203,729 10,813,964

Often, conversations about reentry focus on people released from prisons rather than jails, because people in prison are generally confined for much longer than people in jail and because felony convictions make finding housing and employment particularly difficult. We decided to include jail releases here because while many people who go to jail are released quickly, others languish behind bars for months, often without being convicted or sentenced. Moreover, particularly vulnerable people are often arrested, jailed, and released repeatedly, and these individuals have high levels of need for community-based supports rather than punishment. For more information about the needs of people in jail, see our report Arrest, Release, Repeat, and for more on the unmet needs of people in prisons, see Beyond the Count and Chronic Punishment.

 

Looking for releases to your local community?

For readers hoping for prison release data more local than the state level, we can offer a few suggestions:

First, as we recently explained in a separate post, we have published a series of reports about the places people in prison call home in the states that have ended prison gerrymandering. In these states, home address data is collected by the prison system, which we have aggregated at various geographic levels including counties, cities, ZIP codes, and even neighborhoods in select cities. Assuming that people released from prison each year are distributed across the state in a way that’s similar to the distribution of people in prison, you can use this data to estimate how many people from each of these places are released each year. You simply need to know the state-level ratio of annual prison releases (from the table above) to the number of people reallocated to their home addresses in our state-level reports. You can then multiply that ratio by the number of people in prison from the geographic area you are interested in to arrive at an estimate of how many people from that area are released each year.

For example: Let’s say you want to estimate how many people from Buffalo, New York are released from New York prisons annually. In New York state, there were 20,903 people released from prison in 2019. And according to our report, 39,027 people were reallocated to their home addresses from state prisons, which is a ratio of 53.5% (20,903 divided by 39,027). You can then multiply that ratio by the number of people in prison from Buffalo (1,703) to estimate that about 912 Buffalo residents are released from New York prisons each year.

For readers from states that have yet to end prison gerrymandering, other proxy measures may work well. Many states publish data on the counties that send people to prison (“county of commitment”). The Vera Institute of Justice uses these data, wherever possible, to break down state prison populations to the county level in its Trends tool (under the label “prison incarceration”). While “county of commitment” data refer to where an incarcerated person was convicted and sentenced – not their home address – it’s a safe bet that many people are from the same county as where they were convicted, as most criminal activity occurs close to home. To estimate releases based on county of commitment numbers, you can follow the same method described above, but substitute the county of commitment number for the data from our reports.

 

Looking for a more recent estimate of jail releases in your state?

Again, because jails are operated locally and the Bureau of Justice Statistics only surveys all jails every six years or so in the Census of Jails, precise data on the number of people released from all the jails across a given state are not available for every year. However, the fact that most people are in jail for a relatively short period of time means that in most states, the number of admissions is very close to the number of releases each year. Similarly, the number of arrests tracks closely with the number of admissions; the Vera Institute of Justice points out that for every 100 arrests, there are 99 jail admissions. So if you know the number of arrests or jail admissions in your state in a given year, that number is likely quite close to the number of jail releases.

We hope this data and the links help you with your advocacy in your state.

Wendy Sawyer is the Prison Policy Initiative Research Director. (Other articles | Full bio | Contact)

One response:

  1. Mary Annette Starnes says:

    Something needs to be done with the changing of laws. Apartment buildings, duplexes and the like should not be allowed to discriminate against felons. Either that, or just as the government helps people on welfare with housing they need to find alternative housing for felons. When I was released from prison I worked for$20 a day 16 hours a day because I had to have a job. They say people can’t go back more than 10 years on background checks yet there is nothing stopping them from doing it.



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