California has an incarceration rate of 549 per 100,000 people (including prisons, jails, immigration detention, and juvenile justice facilities), meaning that it locks up a higher percentage of its people than almost any democracy on earth. Read on to learn more about who is incarcerated in California and why.
Jump to COVID-19 data.
239,000 people from California are behind bars
Additionally, the number of people impacted by county and city jails in California is much larger than the graph above would suggest, because people cycle through local jails relatively quickly. Each year, at least 368,000 different people are booked into local jails in California.
Rates of imprisonment have grown dramatically in the last 40 years
Also see these California graphs:
Today, California’s incarceration rates stand out internationally
In the U.S., incarceration extends beyond prisons and local jails to include other systems of confinement. The U.S. and state incarceration rates in this graph include people held by these other parts of the justice system, so they may be slightly higher than the commonly reported incarceration rates that only include prisons and jails. Details on the data are available in States of Incarceration: The Global Context. We also have a version of this graph focusing on the incarceration of women.
People of color are overrepresented in prisons and jails
See also our detailed graphs about Whites,
in California prisons and jails.
California's criminal justice system is more than just its prisons and jails
Data on COVID-19 in California jails and prisons
We gave California a "C-" grade in September 2021 for its response to the coronavirus in prisons, noting that:
- Prison populations have dropped by almost 20% in California, but in June 2021, the state prison system was still holding more people than it was designed for, at 107% of their design capacity (and up from 103% in January 2021).
- Over half of all people in California prisons (52%) have tested positive for COVID-19.
For more detail, see our report States of Emergency. Or check out these other resources:
- Our Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic page tracks criminal justice policy responses to the coronavirus all 50 states
- California was one of three states that saw more than 500 people die in its prisons in the first year of the COVID pandemic.
- As of late April 2021, only 60% of corrections staff in California prisons had gotten the COVID-19 vaccine
- How crowded are California prisons, as of December 2020?
- How many COVID-19 cases in California communities can be linked to outbreaks in correctional facilities? (data from our report Mass Incarceration, COVID-19, and Community Spread)
- State prison and jail population data for February 2022. (Previous data is available for October 2021, June 2021, February 2021, December 2020, September 2020, August 2020, and May 2020.) Data availability varies by state.
Our other articles about California
Protecting family contact in California prisons and jails
Prison-based gerrymandering in California