From the Economist:
According to the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2010 America’s prison population declined year-on-year for the first time in nearly four decades. There were 1,605,127 prisoners behind bars in state and federal correction facilities in 2010, 9,228 fewer than in 2009. Although that is less than a percentage point decrease, it is still significant. Half of the states reported decreases in prison populations, with Rhode Island and Georgia (where one in 13 adults is under some form of correctional control, one of the highest proportions in the country) reporting the largest percentage decreases, 8.6% and 7.9% respectively. There were some increases, most notably Illinois, which saw the largest increase in absolute numbers, followed by Texas. But the largest percentage increase in the state prison population was in Iowa, up 7.3%, followed by Illinois, up 7.2%.
The imprisonment rate is also down. The rate last year was about one in 201 residents. Since 2007, when it peaked at 506 per 100,000 residents, the imprisonment rate has declined each year. Illinois reported the largest rate increase, while it fell in 33 states. About one-third of admissions result from parole violations. Surveillance has been a key component in correction supervision since the 1980s. Consequently, parole violations caused a seven-fold increase in people returning to prison from 1980 to 2000. In 2009 parole violators accounted for a third of all state prison admissions, but this sort of admission declined last year, thanks in part no doubt because of the efforts made at the state, local and federal level to lower recidivism rates. According to a Pew report, 43% of offenders are returned to state prison within three years of their release.
Also encouraging is the news that releases from prison exceeded admissions in 2010 for the first time since 1977. This means that many prisons are not operating at full capacity. Twenty-eight states are operating at or below their highest capacity. Mississippi, for instance, operated at 46% above its top capacity in 2010. The same holds true at federal prisons where are operating at 36% of its highest reported capacity. It is not all good news. Black men still have a horrifically high imprisonment rate—nearly seven times higher than while males.