New report finds the U.S. prison population grew in 2022 after almost a decade of decline

New data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows the number of people sentenced to more than one year in prison increased in 35 states and rose 2% nationally. 

The recent surge in the U.S. prison population in 2022, as reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, has brought to light several concerning trends and statistics that deserve closer examination. This unexpected growth, after nearly a decade of decline, raises questions about the state of the nation’s criminal justice system.

The rising number of people incarcerated in the United States as of December 31, 2022 was 1,230,100, an increase of 2% from the previous year’s total of 1,205,100. Notably, 96% of those detained had been given sentences of more than a year and were under the control of state and federal penitentiary officials. 

Various U.S. states had different rates of growth in their prison populations. In fact, from year end 2021 to year end 2022, 35 states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) recorded an increase in the number of people serving sentences of more than one year under correctional authority. This emphasizes the requirement for a more thorough investigation of the procedures and policies causing these differences.

On top of this problem, the prison system continues to exhibit racial inequities, with 32% of those convicted to state or federal prison being Black and 31% being White. 23% of the prison population was Hispanic, while 10% of inmates were multiracial or came from other racial groups. Asian, Native Hawaiian, or Other Pacific Islander people made up 1% of the prison population, while American Indian or Alaska Native people made up 2%.

"Rather than succumbing to fruitless impulses to get tougher, jurisdictions should redouble their efforts to decarcerate to achieve an effective and just criminal legal system."

Ashley Nellis, Co-Director of Research at The Sentencing Project, responded to these alarming statistics, stating, “For over a decade, the country has been moving away from a failed playbook of incarceration and overcriminalization — often motivated by bipartisan consensus to reform the country’s broken criminal legal system. But the recent, temporary, uptick in crime has tested this resolve. Rather than succumbing to fruitless impulses to get tougher, jurisdictions should redouble their efforts to decarcerate to achieve an effective and just criminal legal system.”

It’s crucial to keep in mind that the 2022 statistics are provisional and could change when the Bureau of Justice Statistics publishes its final data in November 2023 as part of the study “Prisoners in 2022 – Statistical Tables.”

See the full study here.


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Kat Weeden is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Media. Her studies primarily focused on how different forms of media can impact our perspectives on marginalized communities. Kat was initially drawn to criminal justice in high school after she became captain of the Ethics team which involved various cases on crime, justice, and punishment. She continued to learn about the justice system through classes such as Philosophy and the Law where she discussed and dissected the ethics of various laws and punishments. She later explored how social media plays a part in the representation of marginalized communities and their relationships to crime. She wrote a research paper on how different social media platforms promote content concerning crime and how it could affect social activists’ mental health.