Tennessee has an incarceration rate of 838 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 Tennessee and why.
Jump to COVID-19 data.
58,000 people from Tennessee are behind bars
Additionally, the number of people impacted by county and city jails in Tennesee is much larger than the graph above would suggest, because people cycle through local jails relatively quickly. Each year, at least 117,000 different people are booked into local jails in Tennessee.
Rates of imprisonment have grown dramatically in the last 40 years
More than third of the people held in jails in Tennessee 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 Tennessee, see our table "Jail and prison incarcerated populations by state over time."
Also see these Tennessee graphs:
This graph excludes people held for state or federal authorities from the total count of people held in Tennessee jails. Because a significant proportion (33%) of the population in Tennessee's jails is held for the state prison system and the U.S. Marshals Service, this graph likely overstates the convicted population and understates the pre-trial population.
Today, Tennessee’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 Tennessee prisons and jails.
Tennessee's criminal justice system is more than just its prisons and jails
Data on COVID-19 in Tennessee jails and prisons
We gave Tennessee a failing grade in September 2021 for its response to the coronavirus in prisons, noting that:
- Tennessee is one of only 8 states that have failed to reduce their prison population by more than 10% during the pandemic.
- Tennessee is one of 13 states that did not implement any policies to accelerate releases, promote medical parole or compassionate release, prevent incarceration for technical violations of probation and parole, or hasten releases for people incarcerated on minor offenses.
- Tennessee is one of 15 prison systems that does not have a policy making hand sanitizer widely available or providing free hygiene products — like soap — to incarcerated people.
For more detail, see our report States of Emergency. Or check out these other resources:
- We're tracking Tennessee's medical copay policies in prisons during the pandemic
- Our Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic page tracks criminal justice policy responses to the coronavirus all 50 states
- 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.
- Despite the pandemic, Tennessee held more youth under age 18 in adult prisons in 2020 than in 2019.
- As of late April 2021, only 63% of corrections staff in Tennessee prisons had gotten the COVID-19 vaccine
- How crowded are Tennessee prisons, as of December 2020?
- How many COVID-19 cases in Tennessee communities can be linked to outbreaks in correctional facilities? (data from our report Mass Incarceration, COVID-19, and Community Spread)
- As of August 2020, Tennessee prisons were not even requiring staff to wear masks at work
Our other articles about Tennessee
The prison and jail telecom industry in Tennessee
Women's incarceration in Tennessee
Prison-based gerrymandering in Tennessee