US Jail Population Decreases-68 Percent Are Felons

Jail Population Decreases

Jail Population Decreases


The jail incarceration rate in county and city jails across the United States dropped 12% over a decade.

The US jail incarceration rate rose by 12% for whites and fell by about 30% for blacks (down 28%) and Hispanics (down 33%). The jail incarceration rate for black residents fell below 600 per 100,000 for the first time since 1990.

The number of juvenile jail inmates fell 56%.

More than two-thirds (68%) of jail inmates in 2018 were held for felony charges.

This report has nothing to do with the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.


Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr.

Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning public relations for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Former Adjunct Associate Professor of criminology and public affairs-University of Maryland, University College. Former advisor to presidential and gubernatorial campaigns. Former advisor to the “McGruff-Take a Bite Out of Crime” national media campaign. Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University. Aspiring drummer.


As I write this, we are in the middle of the Copronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic. Ninety percent of the media coverage as it relates to criminal justice issues is a call to release as many jail and prison inmates as possible to prevent the spread of the virus.

In the midst of all this is a new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the US Department of Justice stating that jail populations are already reduced, significantly so for some demographics. Sixty-eight percent of jail inmates were held for felony charges.

Why are jail populations down? Below is the new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics plus references to previous data showing previous reductions in jail or prison populations, reduced police contacts, and fewer arrests.

Reduced jail (and prison populations) may be state policy-driven, or they may be greatly influenced by dramatically fewer arrests (25 percent in the last decade).

All this is happening with data from three of the four major sources on crime indicating that violent crime has increased. Property crime continues to fall.

Bureau Of Justice Statistics Report

The jail incarceration rate in county and city jails across the United States dropped 12% over a decade, from an estimated 258 jail inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents in 2008 to 226 per 100,000 in 2018, the Bureau of Justice Statistics announced today.

From 2008 to 2018, the jail incarceration rate rose by 12% for whites and fell by about 30% for blacks (down 28%) and Hispanics (down 33%).

The rate rose from 167 to 187 inmates per 100,000 white residents, fell from 825 to 592 per 100,000 black residents and fell from 274 to 182 per 100,000  Hispanic residents.

In 2018, the jail incarceration rate for black residents fell below 600 per 100,000 for the first time since 1990.

County and city jails held 738,400 inmates nationwide at midyear 2018, a decline of 6% from 785,500 inmates held in 2008. The number of juvenile jail inmates fell 56% during this period, from 7,700 to 3,400.

At midyear 2018, males accounted for 84% of jail inmates and females accounted for 16%. Fifty percent of the jail population was white, 33% was black and 15% was Hispanic.

More than two-thirds (68%) of jail inmates in 2018 were held for felony charges.

About one-third (34%) of jail inmates were sentenced or awaiting sentencing on a conviction, while about two-thirds (66%) were awaiting court action on a current charge or were held for other reasons.

In 2018, jails reported 10.7 million admissions, a 21% decline from 2008. Jail inmates spent an estimated average of 25 days in jail. An estimated 81% of jail beds were occupied at midyear 2018, down from 95% at midyear 2008.

The report, Jail Inmates in 2018 is available on the BJS website at

Previous Reports-Prisons And Jails

The prison incarceration rate dropped 2.1% from 2016 to 2017, bringing it to the lowest level since 1997.

From 2007 to 2017, incarceration rates in both prisons and jails decreased by more than 10%.

Among racial groups, the imprisonment rate for sentenced black adults declined by 31% from 2007 to 2017 and by 4% from 2016 to 2017, the largest declines of any racial group.

Among state prisoners sentenced to more than one year, more than half (55%) were serving a sentence for a violent offense, Lowest Rate Of Incarceration.

The Vast Majority Of Crime Does Not End In Arrest

Per the FBI, the vast majority of crime does not end in arrest, Arrests.

Police Contacts Are Falling

Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics, we know that police contacts are declining, Police Contacts.

Arrests Are Declining

Arrests have fallen 25 percent over the last decade, Arrests Falling

Violent Crime Is Increasing Per Three Out Of Four Reports

The principal reason for any confusion regarding violent crime is the increase in “all” violent crime as measured by the National Crime Survey (an increase in violent crime of 28 percent from 2015-2018) and measures of “reported” crime compiled from local law enforcement agencies via the FBI.

Per the FBI, violent crime increased in 2015 and 2016 but decreased slightly in 2017 (violence was essentially flat) and 2018 (a decrease of 3.3 percent). It decreased by 3.1 percent for the first half of 2019.

There have been additional increases since 2000; the rate of violent crime in the US increased in 2005 and 2006 (via FBI data) but the index returned to decreases in 2007.

Per Gallup, “Each year since 2017, 15% of U.S. adults have indicated they were victimized by a crime in the past year. A subset of that, between 1% and 3%, have reported being the victim of a violent crime.” One percent of Americans were victimized by violent crime in 2016. That tripled to three percent in 2019. 2019 is the first year where violent crime reached three percent, Gallup.

Thus we have a fundamental question, which holds more importance, a 28 percent increase in all violent crime per the National Crime Survey (2015-2018), a tripling of violent crime per Gallup,  or a 3.3 percent decrease in 2018 and a 3.1 percent decrease for the first half of 2019 for reported crime from the FBI? Violent Crime.

Violent crime increased per the Major Cities Chiefs Association, Reported Violent Crime.


There are an endless array of criminal justice reform efforts to reduce prison or jail populations with limited success over the course of decades with an average reduction of ten percent.

But the primary reason for fewer incarcerations may have more to do with considerably less contact by law enforcement ( a reduction of eight million contacts) and a 25 percent reduction in arrests.

Note that at the same time, violent crime seems to be increasing per the Bureau of Justice Statics, Gallup and the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

See More

See more articles on crime and justice at Crime in America.

Most Dangerous Cities/States/Countries at Most Dangerous Cities.

US Crime Rates at Nationwide Crime Rates.

National Offender Recidivism Rates at Offender Recidivism.

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