The number of incarcerated adults dropped by nearly 300,000 in America the past decade, new U.S. Census figures show.
Almost two million remained locked up, but the 2020 Census report shows that nationwide the incarcerated population has dropped 13%.
“Roughly one-third of the drop in the total numbers occurred in just two populous states — California and New York,” the Marshall Project reported Sept. 20, 2021.
Some attribute the vast reduction in the prison population to COVID-19 and the precautions that have been put in place to reduce over-crowding.
According to data provided by the Marshall Project tracker, state and prison populations reduced the amount of prisoners in June 2020 by 100,000 compared to April of 2020, the article stated. Experts attribute the drop in population to several things, one of which is that “[t]he court system and parole offices slowed down as they moved operations online.” This reduced the number of people who were sentenced or caught up in parole violations.
The reduction is also attributed to a drop in the number of people arrested for drug crimes, and traffic stops.
San Quentin resident M. Ali expressed his views with these words: “As of lately it has been an increase in SQ population, largely due to shady legislation. This is unbelievable, ’cause we are still in a pandemic. There is not enough free room based on the influx of receiving incarcerated persons. Something must be done.”
A major function of the Census is to divide the state’s population into more or less equal legislative districts. Some districts take advantage of “prison gerrymandering,” which means adding to the political power of rural areas where many prisons, jails, and detention centers are located.
A report from the Vera Institute of Criminal Justice shows that the numbers of those entering the prison system is starting an upward trend.
West Virginia, in particular, has had an increasing number of people awaiting trial sent to local jails. From 2010 – 2019, West Virginia’s jail population grew by close to 30%.
“We used to have county jails, but counties couldn’t afford them,” said Quenton King, a criminal justice policy analyst. “So now we have regional jails, where about seven counties share one, but even then counties have difficulty paying their share.”
The article indicated that the prison population in West Virginia will continue to grow.
“We have local elected leaders, prosecutors and magistrates who still fall into this old school mindset of incarceration being the way to fix social ills,” said Eli Baumwell, the advocacy director for the ACLU of West Virginia. “Until that changes, unfortunately I think the state is going to keep seeing these numbers climb up.”