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.


The BRAC process, which is used to close military bases, has successfully avoided political minefields. Could a similar process be created to close prisons?

by Stephen Raher, August 22, 2022

The Sentencing Project recently released an important report about prison closures and the need to thoroughly plan for repurposing former facilities. The report, Repurposing Correctional Facilities to Strengthen Communities, summarizes trends in prison closures, emphasizes the need to reinvest in communities that have been destabilized by mass incarceration, and provides case studies of closed prisons that have been reinvented–ranging from the widely-praised repurposing of New York’s Mid-Orange Correctional Facility to the entertainment-themed redevelopment of Tennessee’s Brushy Mountain prison (a tourist attraction that scholar Judah Schept has accused of being reliant on “interpersonal violence and depravity to narrate and sell…the ideology of punishment”).

The complex dynamics of repurposing closed prisons is an important problem for activists to confront. But we don’t even get to that stage without deciding to close correctional facilities in the first place. And closures are often blocked by local political leaders who insist that prisons are the indispensable key to host-communities’ economic survival. When prison populations decline and governors or legislatures make plans to close unneeded facilities, host communities reliably assemble in force to proclaim the “extreme difficulty” of finding replacement jobs and question the ability of their town to even exist in the absence of a prison. Elected officials often cave in the face of such local opposition.

But there is a model for closing government facilities notwithstanding strong local opposition. Military bases are spread throughout the country (the average congressional district receives about $80 million in annual spending from the Army alone), making it notoriously difficult to get base closures through Congress. Realizing that the country had too many military bases, in 1988 Congress chose to get past the local politics of base closures by creating the “base realignment and closure” (“BRAC”) process.

The mechanics of BRAC are complicated, but two components are particularly relevant to advocates seeking to close prisons. First, decision-making in the federal BRAC process is insulated from political pressure. The secretary of defense appoints an independent BRAC commission that studies the assets and needs of the military and then issues a report listing bases to be closed. Although the report is subject to review by elected politicians, the framework deliberately prevents piecemeal meddling: The president and Congress can reject the recommendations in their entirety, or they can allow them to go forward; they cannot pick and choose certain bases to remove from the closure list.

The second important aspect of the federal BRAC process is how local communities receive assistance in repurposing closed bases. Normal surplus property regulations are bypassed so that local communities can give input on the best ways to reuse facilities. The federal government also provides financial assistance for communities to plan redevelopment, upgrade utilities, demolish unneeded buildings, construct new buildings, and retrain workers.

Every year, states throughout the country debate closing prisons. Achieving closures–and making sure they are permanent–requires acknowledging the needs of local communities (both those that host closed prisons and those that have been depopulated through mass incarceration) and avoiding the political minefield of provincial pork-barrel politics. Adopting a modified BRAC-like process for closing prisons is an idea whose time has come.


Congress has created reduced postage rates for special groups in the past...it's time for it to create one for incarcerated people and their families.

by Stephen Raher, August 17, 2022

Between paying bills online and the convenience of “forever stamps,” it’s probably been a while since most readers have thought about the cost of mailing a letter. But for someone in prison, it could take six hours of work to pay for one postage stamp — and that cost is about to go up even higher.

In 2020, the US Postal Service obtained the legal authority to raise first-class postage rates faster than the rate of inflation (previously, rate increases had been capped at the consumer inflation rate). The following year Congress directed the Postal Regulatory Commission to study how this new rate structure impacts consumers. We submitted comments last month in conjunction with the Commission’s study, explaining how high mailing costs hurt incarcerated people and their families.

Not only are postal rates a substantial burden for someone earning 10 cents an hour, but incarcerated people depend on the mail much more than the average person does in today’s online world. As we explain in our comments:

Mail is the primary channel by which people in prison and jail can conduct personal business. Incarcerated people must still use paper for basic activities that have migrated online for many segments of society — activities like filing tax returns… submitting documents in judicial proceedings; monitoring credit reports for purposes of preventing identity theft; staying on top of personal finances; and laying the groundwork for post-release jobs or educational programs.

Mail is also crucial for incarcerated people to maintain family ties. Mail is the most common way that people in state prisons with minor children keep in touch with their kids, according to recently-released BJS data:

graph showing how parents in state prison keep in touch with their children

Disappointingly, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy recently announced his intent to seek yet another rate hike in the coming months. DeJoy cites inflation as the justification for another price increase. But while the average person who only mails a few letters or bill payments each month might be able to afford an extra 3-5 cents per stamp, this is a substantial burden on incarcerated mailers. While wages in general may inch up in an inflationary era, wages for incarcerated workers are stagnant:

In 2017, PPI surveyed prison wages in all 50 states and discovered that wage scales for people incarcerated in state prison systems average 14 cents to 60 cents per hour for standard prison-based jobs.

When researchers at the ACLU and the University of Chicago Law School conducted a similar survey in 2022, they reported virtually unchanged wages, with averages ranging from 13 cents to 52 cents per hour.

Raising postal service rates for incarcerated people will make it harder for families to stay in touch and for incarcerated people to prepare for their release, while sapping the little money they are able to save at their prison jobs.

Needless to say, the Commission should reconsider its order that allows the Postal Service to increase rates faster than inflation, but there’s another long-term step that would protect incarcerated people and their families from the disproportionate impacts of postal price hikes. Throughout American history Congress has created special reduced postage rates for special groups like periodical publishers, nonprofit organizations, agricultural groups, libraries, and blind people. Postal rates today may be less of a concern to the population-at-large than in years past, but it’s time for Congress to create a special rate classification for people who truly depend on postal communications — people in prison or jail and the family members who write to them.

The world of prison communications is already rife with burdensome restrictions and exploitative telecom charges that make it harder for families to stay connected. A special reduced rate for mail to or from incarcerated people is necessary now to protect the oldest, most reliable form of communication incarcerated people have.


Government survey results illuminate the broader consequences of locking up people with children.

by Leah Wang, August 11, 2022

We know that family contact can help incarcerated people cope with being locked up and reduce their chances of returning to prison. Yet self-reported data from people in state prisons show just how difficult it is to communicate with loved ones, provide financial support even when legally obligated, and make decisions with and about their families. Millions of families and minor children throughout the country are punished emotionally, economically, and otherwise by a loved one’s incarceration.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Survey of Prison Inmates data provide the deepest nationwide look yet at the challenges and impossibilities of parenting from prison. Conducted in 2016 but released as a limited public dataset in late 2020, the Survey asked people housed in state prisons about a wide range of topics, from their upbringing and childhood, to the offense that led to incarceration, to their life in prison.1 Here, we offer data and analysis revealing the ways in which prisons fail entire families — and society more broadly — by separating millions of children from their parents, and by enforcing harmful policies that perpetuate cycles of poverty and disadvantage.

  

Half of people in prison are parents to minors, leaving 1.25 million kids struggling to cope

Nearly half (47%) of the approximately 1.25 million people in state prison are parents of minor children, and about 1 in 5 (19%) of those children is age 4 or younger.2 Altogether, parents in state prison reported roughly 1.25 million minor children, meaning the number of people in state prison almost exactly mirrors the number of impacted minor children. Research indicates that children of incarcerated parents face formidable cognitive and health-related challenges throughout their development.

image showing that there are roughly equal numbers of adults in state prisons and children with a parent in state prison

The challenges of parenting from prison are particularly likely to affect women. The Survey reveals that women in state prisons are more likely than men to be a parent of a minor child (58% of women, compared to 46% of men). Women were also more likely to have been living with their children prior to their imprisonment: About 52% of women with minor children report living with their child(ren) at the time of their arrest, compared to 40% of men. Finally, women were more likely to lead a single-parent household, as 39% of incarcerated mothers of minors lived with children but no spouse, compared to 21% of fathers.

  • chart showing that a greater percentage of women in state prison have minor children, lived with their child at the time of arrest, and led single-parent households at the time of arrest when compared to men
  • chart showing that incarcerated parents often grew up in difficult circumstances, including foster care, having an incarcerated parent, experiencing homelessness, low income, and not completing high school
  • slide showing that 33% of people in state prisons had an incarcerated parent, 69% are parents, almost half are parents of minors, and together, they are parents to 1.25 million minor children

Slideshow 1. Scroll to learn more about parents in prison and family cycles of incarceration.

And like the state prison population overall, incarcerated parents themselves grew up in struggling households:

  • 17% spent time in foster care;
  • 43% came from families that received public assistance (i.e., welfare) before they turned 18;
  • 19% lived in public housing before they turned 18;
  • 11% were homeless at some point before age 18; and
  • 32% had (or currently have) an incarcerated parent of their own.3

  

Many children are uprooted by a parent’s arrest and incarceration

What happens to children when the parent they live with goes to state prison? Most go on to live with other family members: Incarcerated parents who lived with their minor children at the time of their arrest report that their child (or children) is now in the care of the other parent or step-parent (71%), a grandmother (13%) and/or grandfather (4%), or other relatives (5%). Still, other children have been moved into the homes of friends, an “agency or institution,” someone else, or they live on their own (about 4% in all).4

A small percentage of these parents (0.3%) reported that their child is currently incarcerated.5 While certainly not all children who experience parental incarceration are destined to become incarcerated themselves, the arrest and incarceration of a parent is a painful experience, and has been linked to a child’s own, eventual justice system involvement. The Survey result is too small to break down by gender or race, but research suggests that children of incarcerated mothers are more likely to become incarcerated compared to children of incarcerated fathers.

About 3,400 parents (1.8% of parents living with their minor children before arrest) report that their minor children ended up in the foster care system (separate from the “agency or institution” outcome above). This outcome, in particular, can mean an end to parental rights altogether: 1 in 8 incarcerated parents with children in foster care have their parental rights terminated, according to a Marshall Project analysis of government data.6

Currently, federal policy regarding foster children fails to acknowledge the realities of mass incarceration and long prison sentences,7 and makes it likely for incarcerated people with children in foster care to lose them permanently. For children, placement in foster care can lead more easily to criminal legal involvement, particularly those in group homes or who experience multiple moves as a foster child. In one study, by the age of 17, more than one-half of all foster care youths (not just those with an incarcerated parent) had experienced an arrest, conviction, or overnight stay in a correctional facility.

The deep despair felt by both parent and child amounts to a colossal but largely invisible crisis: the mass punishment of over 1 million children. Short of the parent being released from prison and being offered needed supports, one of the best ways to mitigate these negative impacts is by limiting barriers to meaningful contact between children and incarcerated parents.

  

Most incarcerated parents and their children find ways to stay in touch, but prisons make family contact difficult

Many children want, and all children deserve, the opportunity to visit their incarcerated parents. Yet two-thirds of parents in prison with minor children have never received a visit from them. Not only are many prison visitation policies excessively strict, such as onerous pre-approval processes and rules about what visitors can wear,8 but many parents are simply incarcerated too far from home for visits to be logistically or economically feasible. A national survey in 2004 revealed that almost two-thirds of people in state prisons were located more than 100 miles from home, and more than 10% were over 500 miles away, and distance is a strong predictor of receiving visits.

  • chart showing that most parents in prison keep in touch with kids through phone calls and postal mail, with fewer using email or receiving visits
  • chart showing the logistical and personal barriers to visits from children according to parents who have not received visits. One-third say the child lives too far away, and about a quarter say the other parent doesn’t want the child to visit

Slideshow 2. Scroll to see more about family contact and barriers to visitation.

This most recent Survey did not ask about physical distance from home to prison, but it did ask parents about why they thought their children had not visited. Among parents in prison who had children under 18, but had not received a visit:

  • The most common reason for not receiving a visit, reported by 33% of parents who had not received a visit, was that their child lives too far away.
  • About one-fourth (23%) of parents responded that the child’s non-incarcerated parent or guardian did not want the child to visit. This reluctance could stem from a wish to protect the child — it can be painful to witness a parent in prison — but it could also have to do with distance, logistics, strained relationships between the adults, or cost.
  • A smaller share of parents (14%) said they did not want their child to visit, possibly for some of the same reasons. Even though research shows positive impacts of parent-child contact during incarceration, it’s understandable that an adult might want to keep a child away from the prison setting.
  • Just 3% of parents reported that it’s the child themselves who is reluctant to visit, signaling that most children do want to maintain a connection with their parent.

Despite these challenges, one-third (33%) of parents in prison with minor children have received at least one visit from their child. Prison policies or resources likely play a role in low levels of in-person visitation, such as a lack of visitation assistance (providing transportation to and from prisons), or eliminating visitation altogether — sometimes justifying these restrictions by exaggerating the volume of contraband items that come in through visitors.

Of course, parents in state prison and their children keep in touch in other ways: 60% of parents report phone calls with their kids, and 70% of parents send their children physical mail. (Some of this correspondence appears to be one-sided, however: only 57% report receiving mail from their children.) A smaller number of parents also report sending (10%) or receiving (13%) email from their children via computers or tablets available in prisons, indicating that more modern avenues for communication are available to some incarcerated people.

These remote (rather than in-person) connections happen more frequently than visits. Over two-thirds (72%) of phone calls, and more than one-third (35%) of incoming mail from children, are received daily or weekly, but only one-fifth (20%) of visits happen that often. Still, phone calls, mail, and email are subject to all manner of exploitation by the private companies that run prison communications. Further, prison administrations can change snail mail policies at the drop of a hat, increasingly toward “mail scanning” schemes that reduce sentimental letters and art into blurry scans — that is, if they’re delivered at all.

  

Child support debt follows parents into prison, despite the impossibility of paying it off

Parents also often enter prison with legal financial obligations to their children: More than one-fourth (27%) of parents in state prisons with minor children owe ongoing child support, and most of those (80%), unsurprisingly, owe back pay. Men are more than twice as likely to owe child support (29% of fathers, compared to 14% of mothers).

However, it’s extremely difficult for incarcerated people to fulfill this legal-financial obligation. People who enter prison are among the nation’s poorest, and even those who do work a prison job earn appallingly low wages. Knowing this, at least 13 states automatically modify child support payments when a noncustodial parent is incarcerated, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In other states, however, the parent must act within a narrow time window to submit payment modification paperwork, or else they may accumulate astronomical debt while incarcerated.9

If 500,000 people are released from state prisons every year — a conservative estimate10 — that means about 63,000 of them are parents saddled with this debt, reentering society with little to no savings and lower earning potential due to their criminal-legal involvement. If they manage to land a job upon release, their wages are usually garnished for child support; without employment and automatic payments, however, missing just one child support payment can thwart other reentry steps like obtaining a driver’s license, filing a tax return — and critically, even staying out of jail.

  

What can be done for families experiencing incarceration?

State policies fail to recognize what so many advocates, researchers, and directly impacted people already know: that state prison incarceration has devastating and far-reaching impacts on family members and entire communities. States and prisons should take steps to ease these burdens, such as making family contact easier through expanded family visitation, visitation assistance, low-cost or free phone calls, and policies that allow real, sentimental mail to be sent from child to parent. What’s more, prisons should ensure that parents are incarcerated as close as possible to their home communities, as in-person visitation may yield some of the most positive impacts on health and behavior. 11

Of course, intervention is possible much earlier than in prison: in some states, primary caregiver laws or family-based sentencing allow for diversion or other community-based alternatives to incarceration for parents or guardians. In Oregon, a family sentencing pilot program kept nearly 400 children out of the foster care system over five years, and led to lower rates of recidivism and revocation compared to similar non-program participants.

Meanwhile, incarcerated parents who maintain a role in their kids’ lives should not have their relationships permanently severed: At the federal level, Congress can repeal the Adoption and Safe Families Act, relieving states of inflexible timelines for terminating parental rights. Further, for noncustodial parents, all states should adopt automatic suspension or modification of child support payments. As we continue to tell the story of incarcerated people through findings from the Survey of Prison Inmates, these data serve as a reminder that the story also belongs to over 1 million children, countless loved ones, and whole communities left behind by harmful state policies.

   

Footnotes

  1. You can read more about the demographic, early life, and health-related results from the survey in two of our latest reports, Beyond the Count: A deep dive into state prison populations, and Chronic Punishment: The unmet health needs of people in state prisons, and our briefing, What the Survey of Prison Inmates tells us about trans people in state prison.  ↩

  2. 69% of people in state prison report having one or more children of any age, and 69% of those have a child under 18, equating to 47% who were parents of minor children at the time of the 2016 Survey.  ↩

  3. These statistics refer to incarcerated parents of any-age children, not just those of minor children.  ↩

  4. The 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates asked “Who do the children [that they lived with at the time of arrest] live with now?” The children only needed to be under the age of 18 before someone’s arrest that led to incarceration. Therefore, these results likely describe the current living arrangements of both minor and grown children, who experienced parental incarceration while they were a minor child. Additionally, due to a technical survey error, some parents who were eligible for this question were skipped, so these results do not represent all surveyed parents who lived with their minor children at the time of arrest.  ↩

  5. According to this Bureau of Justice Statistics analysis of the Survey of Prison Inmates, about 5% of people in state prison reported that a child of theirs has ever been incarcerated, regardless of living situation at the time of the respondent’s arrest.  ↩

  6. The Marshall Project analyzed approximately 3 million child welfare case records, created between 2008 and 2016, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They found that incarcerated women (who, according to the Survey, were almost three times as likely as men to have their child move into the foster care system) saw their rights terminated more often.  ↩

  7. Here, we refer to the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997, a bipartisan policy designed to minimize a child’s time in the foster care system. Under the Act, states must move (with a few exceptions) to terminate parental rights once a child has been in foster care for 15 of the previous 22 months. Given that the average state prison sentence of those currently incarcerated, according to the Survey of Prison Inmates, is just over 10 years — eight times as long as the ASFA deadline of 15 months — incarceration essentially guarantees that many of these impacted families will never be legally reunited. While some states have attempted to mitigate the ease with which incarcerated parents can have their parental rights terminated under ASFA, some advocates argue that these reforms are not enough. Currently, there is a movement being led by groups like the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls and the Movement for Family Power to repeal the ASFA.  ↩

  8. State policies vary, but in-person visitation in state prisons is highly regimented. Visitors must often be pre-approved, and visits are scheduled in advance, to be completed within a strict time window; attire, conduct, and activities are all tightly controlled and monitored by correctional staff. For a real-life example, see the 32-page visitation manual from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.  ↩

  9. Despite federal action on carceral child support, the burden is generally still on the incarcerated parent to navigate bureaucracies in order to have their payments modified.  ↩

  10. The most recent available data, from 2020, show that 502,000 people were released from state prisons in 2020 (see Table 9 in the Bureau of Justice Statistics report Prisoners in 2020); however, we know that state prisons regularly released many more people in the years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2016, for example, there were more than 570,000 releases from state prisons, not including deaths.  ↩

  11. In New York and New Jersey, state law requires the department of corrections to consider a parent or primary caregiver’s proximity to their children when they determine where to confine sentenced individuals.  ↩


Report shows communities in all corners of the state are harmed by mass incarceration

August 9, 2022

Today Silver State Voices, the ACLU of Nevada, and the Prison Policy Initiative released a new report, Where people in prison come from: The geography of mass incarceration in Nevada, that provides an in-depth look at where people incarcerated in Nevada state prisons come from. The report also provides fourteen detailed data tables — including data for city council wards in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Sparks, Henderson, and Reno, as well Native lands — that serve as a foundation for advocates, organizers, policymakers, journalists, academics and others to analyze how incarceration relates to other factors of community well-being.

The data and report are made possible by the state’s landmark 2019 law that requires that people in prison be counted as residents of their hometown rather than in prison cells when state and local governments redistrict every ten years.

The report shows:

  • Mass incarceration is a problem harming all corners of the state, with 99.9% of the state’s residents living in a county that is missing a portion of its population to imprisonment. Only Esmeralda County, with a population of 729 people, did not have any residents in state prison at the time the data was collected.
  • While Clark County sends the most people to prison — 5,957 for an imprisonment rate of 263 per 100,000 residents — the smaller Nye and White Pine Counties have significantly higher imprisonment rates; both are at 365 per 100,000 residents.
  • There are dramatic differences in incarceration rates within communities, often along racial and economic lines. For example, in Las Vegas, city council wards 3 and 5 have the highest imprisonment rates in the city, (553 per 100,000 residents and 685 per 100,000 residents, respectively) and highest poverty rates.
  • Some Native communities are hit particularly hard by mass incarceration, with South Fork Reservation, Ely Reservation, Carson Colony, and Battle Mountain Reservation reporting imprisonment rates that are more than four times higher than the state average.

Data tables included in the report provide residence information for people in Nevada state prisons at the time of the 2020 Census, offering the clearest look ever at which communities are most impacted by mass incarceration. They break down the number of people locked up by county, city, town, zip code, legislative district, census tract, and other areas.

The data show the cities with the highest state prison incarceration rates are Ely (482 per 100,000 residents), Las Vegas (330 per 100,000 residents) and Reno (316 per 100,000 residents). For comparison, Lovelock has the lowest imprisonment rate at 55 residents per 100,000 residents. The state imprisonment rate is 252 residents per 100,000 residents.

Map showing most people in Nevada state prisons are from Las Vegas, Reno, and North Las Vegas.

“The nation’s 40-year failed experiment with mass incarceration harms each and every one of us. This analysis shows that while some communities are disproportionately impacted by this failed policy, nobody escapes the damage it causes,” said Emily Widra, Senior Research Analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. “Our report is just the beginning. We’re making this data available so others can further examine how geographic incarceration trends correlate with other problems communities face.”

The report cites studies that show that incarceration rates correlate with a variety of negative outcomes, including higher rates of asthma, depression, lower standardized test scores, reduced life expectancy and more. The data included in this report gives researchers the tools they need to better understand how these correlations play out in Nevada.

“The work of our Nevadans Count coalition during the census and redistricting process was the precursor to this report,” said Emily Persaud-Zamora, Executive Director at Silver State Voices. “Our report provides a more precise picture of the nexus of systemic oppression and mass incarceration. Compounded with the other health disparities in the report, it shows our communities have never been voiceless; they have been muted. Through our rights restoration work, Silver State Voices is committed to amplifying and sustaining the message that BIPOC communities and those impacted by the criminal legal system can reclaim their political power.”

“Through the dissemination of this report, we hope to continue to bring light to the pervasiveness of inequity within the criminal legal system,” said ACLU of Nevada Policy Manager Lilith Baran. “Mass incarceration continues to undermine our democracy and the impact is far and wide.”

The report is part of a series of reports examining the geography of mass incarceration in America.

Nevada is one of more than a dozen states and 200 local governments that have addressed the practice of “prison gerrymandering,” which gives disproportional political clout to state and local districts that contain prisons at the expense of all of the other areas of the state. In total, roughly half the country now lives in a place that has taken action to address prison gerrymandering.


Report shows every community is harmed by mass incarceration

August 3, 2022

Today, More Equitable Democracy and the Prison Policy Initiative released a new report, Where people in prison come from: The geography of mass incarceration in Washington, that provides an in-depth look at where people incarcerated in Washington state prisons come from. The report also provides eleven detailed data tables — including neighborhood-specific data for Seattle, Vancouver, Tacoma and Spokane — that serve as a foundation for advocates, organizers, policymakers, data journalists, academics and others to analyze how incarceration relates to other factors of community well-being.

The data and report are made possible by the state’s landmark 2019 law that requires that people in prison be counted as residents of their hometown rather than in prison cells when state and local governments redistrict every ten years.

The report shows:

  • Every single county — and every state legislative district — is missing a portion of its population to incarceration in state prison.
  • Many of the state’s smaller and midsized counties, including Grays Harbor, Cowlitz, Lewis, Yakima, and Asotin have some of the highest incarceration rates in the state, making clear that the notion that mass incarceration is a problem just impacting large urban areas is a myth.
  • There are dramatic differences in incarceration rates within communities. For example, in Spokane, residents of the West Central neighborhood are more than forty times as likely to be imprisoned than residents of nearby Balboa-South Indian Trail.
  • Some Native communities are hit particularly hard by mass incarceration, with Skokomish, and Squaxin Island Reservations reporting imprisonment rates over 1,000 per 100,000 residents, more than five times the state average.

Data tables included in the report provide residence information for people in Washington state prisons at the time of the 2020 Census, offering the clearest look ever at which communities are most impacted by mass incarceration. They break down the number of people locked up by county, city, town, zip code, legislative district, census tract and other areas.

The data show that while King County has the most imprisoned residents (3,072), it has one of the lowest county imprisonment rates in the state, with 135 imprisoned people per 100,000 residents. On the other hand, Grays Harbor County has the highest county rate in the state, with 470 people imprisoned per 100,000 residents. For context, the statewide imprisonment rate for Washington is 197 per 100,000 residents.

Map of incarceration rates by census tract.

“The nation’s 40-year failed experiment with mass incarceration harms each and every one of us. This analysis shows that while some communities are disproportionately impacted by this failed policy, nobody escapes the damage it causes,” said Emily Widra, Senior Research Analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. “Our report is just the beginning. We’re making this data available so others can further examine how geographic incarceration trends correlate with other problems communities face.”

The report cites studies that show that incarceration rates correlate with a variety of negative outcomes, including higher rates of asthma, depression, lower standardized test scores, reduced life expectancy and more. The data included in this report gives researchers the tools they need to better understand how these correlations play out in Washington.

“Mass incarceration harms each of us, but it doesn’t harm each of us equally. We’ve known for too long that poorer communities and communities of color are over-policed, over-incarcerated, and under-resourced,” said Colin Cole of More Equitable Democracy. “This data is a tool to help policymakers, advocates, and service providers address the damage that has been done and build stronger, healthier, and more secure communities.”

The report is part of a series of reports examining the geography of mass incarceration in America.

Washington is one of more than a dozen states and 200 local governments that have addressed the practice of “prison gerrymandering,” which gives disproportional political clout to state and local districts that contain prisons at the expense of all of the other areas of the state. In total, roughly half the country now lives in a place that has taken action to address prison gerrymandering.


Report shows every community is harmed by mass incarceration

July 14, 2022

Today the New Virginia Majority and the Prison Policy Initiative released a new report, Where people in prison come from: The geography of mass incarceration in Virginia, that provides an in-depth look at where people incarcerated in Virginia state prisons and local jails come from. The report also provides ten detailed data tables — including neighborhood-specific data for Arlington, Norfolk and Richmond — that serve as a foundation for advocates, organizers, policymakers, data journalists, academics and others to analyze how incarceration relates to other factors of community well-being.

The data and report are made possible by the state’s landmark 2020 law that requires that people in prison and jail be counted as residents of their hometown rather than in prison cells when state and local governments redistrict every ten years.

The report shows:

  • Every single county — and every state legislative district — is missing a portion of its population to incarceration.
  • Many of the state’s least populous counties, including Buchanan, Brunswick, Lee, and Dickinson, have among the highest incarceration rates.
  • There are dramatic differences in incarceration rates within communities. For example, more than half of the people in prison or jail from Richmond come from just 22 of the city’s more than 140 neighborhoods. These neighborhoods have historically been victims of dramatic “redlining”.

Data tables included in the report provide residence information for people in Virginia state prisons and jails at the time of the 2020 Census, offering the clearest look ever at which communities are most impacted by mass incarceration. They break down the number of people locked up by county, city, town, zip code, legislative district, census tract and other areas.

The data show the counties with the highest state prison and local jail incarceration rates are Buchanan (1,246 per 100,000 residents), Brunswick (1,167 per 100,000 residents), Lee (1,155 per 100,000 residents), Dickenson (1,132 per 100,000 residents), and Tazewell (1,105 per 100,000 residents); more than 1% of the residents of each of these counties is behind bars. For comparison, Arlington County has the lowest prison incarceration rate, at 70 people in state prison per 100,000 residents.

Map of incarceration in Colorado census tracts

“The nation’s 40-year failed experiment with mass incarceration harms each and every one of us. This analysis shows that while some communities are disproportionately impacted by this failed policy, nobody escapes the damage it causes,” said Emily Widra, Senior Research Analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. “Our report is just the beginning. We’re making this data available so others can further examine how geographic incarceration trends correlate with other problems communities face.”

The report cites studies that show that incarceration rates correlate with a variety of negative outcomes, including higher rates of asthma, depression, lower standardized test scores, reduced life expectancy and more. The data included in this report gives researchers the tools they need to better understand how these correlations play out in Virginia.

“The damage caused by redlining in Richmond and throughout Virginia continues to reverberate to this very day,” said Kenneth Gilliam of the New Virginia Majority. “Considerable work remains to address the inequities that result in people of color disproportionately being locked behind bars. This report and data, though, offer a roadmap for where and how these investments should be made.”

The report is part of a series of reports examining the geography of mass incarceration in America.

Virginia is one of more than a dozen states and 200 local governments that have addressed the practice of “prison gerrymandering,” which gives disproportional political clout to state and local districts that contain prisons at the expense of all other districts. In total, roughly half the country now lives in a place that has taken action to address prison gerrymandering.


A new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics highlights just how common violent victimization is among women, LGB people, and trans people.

by Emily Widra, July 11, 2022

A new publication from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Violent Victimization by Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, 2017-2020, supports the vast evidence we already have that LGBT people — and particularly young adults, people of color, women, and bisexual people — are at heightened risk of violent victimization compared to their straight and cisgender1 counterparts.

We already know that LGBTQ+ people are overrepresented at every stage of the criminal legal system. And the line between victim and perpetrator is often blurry; many people who commit violent crimes have also been victims of violence and trauma throughout their lives. This new data reinforces that the way to break this cycle is not through punishment and incarceration, but rather support for programs that prevent violent victimization in the first place.

graph showing disproportionately high rates of violent victimization among bisexual, lesbian/gay, and transgender people

Defining violent victimization

The report is based on data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), an annual survey collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. The survey asks respondents about experiences of violent crimes, regardless of whether these crimes were reported to law enforcement. For the purposes of this data source, violent crime includes threatened, attempted, or completed occurrences of rape or sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault.2 The NCVS collects data on people aged 12 and older, but the Violent Victimization by Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, 2017-2020 report from BJS only reports data for people aged 16 and older.

 

Violent victimization of transgender people

graph showing rate of violent victimization of trans people is 2.5 times higher than of cisgender people

We already know that transgender people face a significant amount of discrimination and violence: according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, nearly one in ten respondents were phsyically attacked because of their gender identity, and more than 54% experienced some form of intimate partner violence. This newest report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics supports what we already know about high rates of violence against trans people: the rate of violent victimization of transgender people is 2.5 times higher than the rate among cisgender people.It’s clear that trans people are disproportionately violently victimized: transgender people account for 0.11% of the population 16 and older, but are the victims of 0.27% of all violent victimizations reported from 2017 to 2020 in the NCVS.

 

Violent victimization of LGB people

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals experience violent victimization at rates far higher than their straight counterparts. Lesbian and gay people experienced 44 victimizations per 1,000 people, which was more than twice the victimization rate of straight people (19 per 1,000 people). Bisexual people experienced victimization at almost seven times the rate of straight people and almost three times the rate of lesbian and gay people.

Across all measured demographics – race, sex, and age – bisexual individuals have the highest rates of violent victimization:

  • graph showing bisexual people and bisexual women specifically experience the highest rates of violent victimization
  • graph showing that by sexual orientation, violent victimization of straight people is least likely across racial categories
  • graph showing bisexual and lesbian/gay young adults have the highest rates of violent victimization

Women of all sexual orientations experience higher rates of victimization

Women of all sexual orientations experience higher rates of violent victimization than their male counterparts. The violent victimization rate for lesbian women, for instance, is more than 1.3 times that of gay men (50 per 1,000 vs. 38 per 1,000). The victimization rate is highest among bisexual women, who are victimized at a rate 2.3 times that of bisexual men (151 per 1,000 vs. 65 per 1,000). Straight women experience violent victimization at a rate of 19.2 per 1,000, compared to 18.7 for straight men.

(Unfortunately, the data does not disaggregate trans people by gender, so it is not possible to make a similar comparison.)

 

More supports and protections are needed

This data reiterates what we already know: Society is failing to protect the safety of LGBT people, especially young adults, people of color, women, and bisexual people. Many trans people, for instance, face systemic disadvantages that work together to put them in danger, including anti-trans stigma (including hostile political policies), denial of opportunity (including exclusion from health care, social services, and education), and increased risk factors (such as engagement in survival sex work).

Survivors of violence advocate for interventions that:

  1. Expand funding for affirming services for survivors of violence – including LGBTQ people and women – with a focus on accessible medical and mental health services.
  2. Explicitly include trans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer identities in conversations about intimate partner violence and sexual assault.
  3. Expand access to affordable housing, a living wage, and non-discrimination policies that transform survivors’ access to basic needs.
  4. Encourage implementation of community-based solutions to violence designed by community-members who are most affected, such as those incorporating restorative and transformative justice practices.

Above all, survivors of violence emphasize rehabilitation over punishment, prevention over criminalization, and accountability through options beyond prisons and jails.

 
 

Footnotes

  1. The National Crime Victimization Survey defines cisgender as “an individual whose gender identity is the same as their sex assigned at birth.”  ↩

  2. The Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Crime Victimization Survey define aggravated assault as “An attack or attempted attack with a weapon, regardless of whether the victim is injured, or an attack without a weapon when serious injury results,” and simple assault as an “attack without a weapon resulting either in no injury, minor injury (e.g., bruises, black eyes, cuts, scratches, or swelling), or an undetermined injury requiring fewer than two days of hospitalization. Also includes attempted assault without a weapon.”  ↩


Report shows mass incarceration impacts communities in all corners of the state but disproportionately impacts communities of color

July 7, 2022

Today the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition and the Prison Policy Initiative released a new report, Where people in prison come from: The geography of mass incarceration in Colorado, that provides an in-depth look at where people incarcerated in Colorado state prisons come from. The report also provides eleven detailed data tables — including local data for Denver, Aurora, and El Paso County — that serve as a foundation for advocates, organizers, policymakers, data journalists, academics and others to analyze the impact of mass incarceration on various communities and provide a roadmap where greater investment in community development is needed to improve community wellbeing.

The data and report were made possible by the state’s landmark 2020 law ending prison gerrymandering. It requires state and local governments to count incarcerated people as residents of their home communities rather than their prison locations when drawing legislative districts.

The report shows:

  • Every Colorado legislative district — and nearly every county — is impacted where a portion of its population is incarcerated in state prisons, however the degree of that impact varies wildly when you drill down into the neighborhood level.
  • Two communities with large Hispanic, Latino, or Native American populations — Alamosa and Bent — have some of the highest imprisonment rates in the state.
  • There are dramatic differences in incarceration rates within communities. For example, in Denver, residents of the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood are 20 times more likely to be imprisoned than residents of nearby Washington Park West.

Data tables included in the report provide residence information for people in Colorado state prisons at the time of the 2020 Census, offering the clearest look ever at which communities are most impacted by mass incarceration. They break down the number of people in state prison up by county, city, town, zip code, legislative district, census tract and other areas.

The counties with the most people in state prison at the time of the 2020 census are Denver (2,712), El Paso (2,378), and Adams (1,599).

Meanwhile, the data show the counties with the highest state prison incarceration rates are Alamosa (577 per 100,000 residents), Pueblo (472 per 100,000 residents) and Bent (465 per 100,000 residents). For comparison, San Juan and Mineral counties have the lowest prison incarceration rates, with no residents in prison.

Map of incarceration in Colorado census tracts

“The nation’s 40-year failed experiment with mass incarceration harms each and every one of us. This analysis shows that while some communities are disproportionately impacted by this failed policy, nobody escapes the damage it causes,” said Emily Widra, Senior Research Analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. “Our report is just the beginning. We’re making this data available so others can further examine how geographic incarceration trends correlate with other problems communities face.”

The report cites studies that show incarceration rates correlate with a variety of negative outcomes, including higher rates of asthma, depression, lower standardized test scores, reduced life expectancy and more. The data included in this report gives researchers the tools they need to better understand how these correlations play out in Colorado.

“This seminal report is both appalling and not surprising as over-policing and mass incarceration has targeted low-income communities and communities of color for generations,” said Christie Donner of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition. “We aren’t facing a crisis of crime, we are facing a crisis of neglect and lack of investment in communities of color and we hope this report will mobilize impacted residents and their elected officials to embrace community development as a public safety strategy.”

The report is part of a series of reports examining the geography of mass incarceration in America.

Colorado is one of more than a dozen states and 200 local governments that have addressed the practice of “prison gerrymandering,” which gives disproportional political clout to legislative districts in which prisons are located, at the expense of other districts. In total, roughly half the country now lives in a jurisdiction that has taken action to address prison gerrymandering.


Database contains hundreds of contract documents to help advocates identify and combat the exploitation of incarcerated people and their families.

by Mike Wessler, July 6, 2022

Today, we launched the new Correctional Contracts Library, which contains documents that show how companies profit on the backs of incarcerated people and their families. Through our twenty years of work to expose and stop the abusive practices of private companies, we’ve amassed a collection of hundreds of documents, including contracts, bids, evaluations, and more. These documents provide a paper trail showing how for-profit companies work with jails and prisons to squeeze money out of people who can least afford it. Our collection is now publicly available through this new tool.

The Library includes documents related to phone service, tablets, electronic messaging, commissary, and more. We’ve organized them so you can search for records from a specific facility or filter documents by state, vendor, service, or type. And we’ve provided some notes and remarks about the documents to help users understand what they contain and where they came from.

Using this new resource:

  • Organizers can monitor when their local jail is scheduled to renegotiate its contracts for services and pressure it to secure the best deal for people that are behind bars;
  • Journalists can assess whether prisons and jails in their area are helping companies exploit incarcerated people and their families;
  • Researchers can track how the cottage industry of companies that profit off of incarceration is developing new ways to sap profits from people in prison and jail; and
  • Policymakers can examine contract terms and identify problematic practices that need to stop.

This new tool does not have every prison or jail contract document that exists. We’re sharing our records, but we know our collection isn’t exhaustive. If you don’t see the documents you’re looking for, we’ve put together a guide to help you submit your own public records request to get them.

If you have documents that you think should be in this library, you can send them to us or, if you have a lot of files, use this form to send us a message telling us what you have.

This new database is the latest addition to our Advocacy Toolkit. Through the Toolkit, we’re giving advocates and organizations access to the data, lessons, and resources we’ve honed in our twenty years of working to end mass incarceration in America.

One of our primary goals here at the Prison Policy Initiative is to help others to make change in their communities. The Correctional Contracts Library is the latest way that we’re opening the doors on our research and advocacy to empower the movement to end mass incarceration.









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