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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 democratic country on earth. Read on to learn more about who is incarcerated in Kentucky and why.

37,000 people from Kentucky are behind bars

Pie chart showing that 41,000 Kentucky residents are locked up in federal prisons, state prisons, local jails and other types of facilities

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.

Rates of imprisonment have grown dramatically in the last 40 years

graph showing the number of people in state prison and local jails per 100,000 residents in Kentucky from 1978 to 2019

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:

Graph showing the number of people in Kentucky jails who were convicted and the number who were unconvicted, for the years 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993, 1999, 2005, 2013, and 2019.

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.

Today, Kentucky’s incarceration rates stand out internationally

graphic comparing the incarceration rates of the founding NATO members with the incarceration rates of the United States and the state of Kentucky. The incarceration rate of 664 per 100,000 for the United States and 930 for Kentucky is much higher than any of the founding NATO members 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

2021 graph showing incarceration rates per 100,000 people of various racial and ethnic groups in Kentucky

racial and ethnic disparities between the prison/jail and general population in KY as of 2021

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.

Kentucky's criminal justice system is more than just its prisons and jails

Pie chart showing that 103,000 Kentucky residents are in various types of correctional facilities or under criminal justice supervision on probation or parole See detailed data on incarceration and supervision numbers and rates by state.

Reports and briefings about Kentucky's criminal legal system:

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