Kentucky has an incarceration rate of 930 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 any democracy on earth. Read on to learn more about who is incarcerated in Kentucky and why.
Additionally, the number of people impacted by county and city jails in Kentucky is much larger than the graph above would suggest, because people cycle through local jails relatively quickly. Each year, at least 89,000 different people are booked into local jails in Kentucky.
More than third of the people held in jails in Kentucky are held for federal or state agencies, primarily the state prison system. To avoid counting them twice, this population is not included in the yellow jails line. For annual counts of people in jails held for federal or state authorizes in Kentucky, see our table "Jail and prison incarcerated populations by state over time." Also see these Kentucky graphs:
This graph excludes people held for state or federal authorities from the total count of people held in Kentucky jails. Because a tremendous proportion (43%) of the population in Kentucky’s jails is held for the state prison system, this graph likely overstates the convicted population and understates the pre-trial population.
See also our detailed graphs about Whites, Hispanics, and Blacks in Kentucky prisons and jails.
These graphs use U.S. Census data for all people incarcerated in the state, including people in federal and state prisons, local jails, halfway houses, etc. While state and local facilities contain people processed by the Kentucky judicial systems, the federal prisons contain people sent to those facilities by courts all over the country.
For our purposes, the fact that federal prison populations are included in the Census Bureau's data as residents of Kentucky would be an unimportant statistical quirk except for that fact that there are so many people in federal prisons in Kentucky. In fact, 20% of the incarcerated people that the Census counted in Kentucky were in a federal prison. This has a dramatic impact of the demographics of the incarcerated population. If the Census Bureau's federal prison counts were removed from this analysis, the incarceration rates would be 628 for Whites, 625 for Hispanics, 2397 for Blacks, and 1023 for American Indian and Alaska Natives.
Prisons and jails in Kentucky are increasingly shifting the cost of incarceration to people behind bars and their families, hiding the true economic costs of mass incarceration:
We gave Kentucky a failing grade in September 2021 for its response to the coronavirus in prisons, noting that:
For more detail, see our report States of Emergency. Or check out these other resources: