A closer look at U.S. prison trends: incarceration rates by state


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…mass incarceration has developed primarily as a result of changes in policy, not crime rates…

So why are prisoners incarcerated, exactly? Policy?

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Basically yes. Policy dictates both which crimes will land you in jail (as opposed to community service or other punitive measures) and how long you’re likely to stay there.

If you’re in the United States you’re about three times more likely to be in prison today than your counterpart would have been in the early 1970s even though violent crime rates are lower today.


I’d like to see this compared to the changes in population in each state. This won’t change the conclusion that states like New York have had their incarceration rate change as a result of policy changes, but it could reveal some nuance.

I read through the linked article, and looked up some of the data sources referenced in order to compile the report.

They all appear to be using absolute values for numbers of prisoners, and the percentages are being caluculated off of that data.

So, bad news: This report suffers from a complete lack of year-over-year normailzation. This could be a minor issue, or could end up majorly skewing the statistics, depending on the state. (For instance, Arizona has been going through a population boom in the last ten years. According to wikipedia, between 2000 and 2010 Arizona’s population grew by 24.6%)

The good news: If you’re so inclined, you can go to the Bureau of Justice Statistics website, and the US Census Bureau’s website, pull the raw data off of each into a spreadsheet and normalize it yourself.

I’m at work atm, so I’m not going to take that upon myself.

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