People in Prison in Winter 2021-22

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In this report, Vera researchers analyze data gathered from all states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons on the number of people incarcerated in state and federal prisons in winter 2021–2022. The data shows that the total number of people in prisons declined by a mere 1.1 percent from the end of 2020 to the end of 2021. This demonstrates that even as COVID-19, and especially the virulent Omicron variant, raged inside and outside of prisons, decarceration efforts stalled, and in some cases, reversed. In most states, there have been few intentional or sustained policy efforts to reduce the number of people in prison, despite a pressing need to release more people, which could protect public health without jeopardizing public safety.

Key Takeaway

Despite the continuing pandemic, prison decarceration efforts in the United States have stalled.

Publication Highlights

  • In 2021, 19 states and the federal government increased the number of people incarcerated in prisons.

  • Five percent more people were incarcerated by federal agencies at the end of 2021 than when President Biden took office in January 2021.

  • Despite slowdowns in decarceration, prison populations have not returned to pre-pandemic levels in any state except Alaska.

Key Facts