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Charts & graphs
The cost of incarceration
Reports & briefings
Other resources

Washington State has an incarceration rate of 455 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 Washington and why.

28,000 people from Washington are behind bars

Pie chart showing that 37,000 Washington 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 Washington is much larger than the graph above would suggest, because people cycle through local jails relatively quickly. Each year, at least 98,000 different people are booked into local jails in Washington.

Using 2020 census data, we looked at where people in Washington prisons come from. We found many of the state's smaller, more rural areas send a disproportionate portion of their populations to prison.

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 Washington from 1978 to 2015 Also see these Washington graphs:

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

Today, Washington’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 Washington. The incarceration rate of 664 per 100,000 for the United States and 455 for Washington 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 Washington

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

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

Pie chart showing that 136,000 Washington residents are in various types of correctional facilities or under criminal justice supervision on probation or parole

The high cost of being incarcerated in Washington

Prisons and jails in Washington are increasingly shifting the cost of incarceration to people behind bars and their families, hiding the true economic costs of mass incarceration:

Our other articles about Washington

Other resources

Data on COVID-19 in Washington jails and prisons

We gave Washington a failing grade in September 2021 for its response to the coronavirus in prisons, noting that:

  • As of December 2020, Washington prisons were still over 95% capacity.
  • Washington failed to utilize one of the most obvious, and easiest, tools for reducing the prison population — stopping prison admissions for technical violations of probation and parole (which are not crimes).

For more detail, see our report States of Emergency. Or check out these other resources:

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