U.S. incarceration rate drops to lowest in 26 years
The U.S. incarceration rate in 2019 dropped to its lowest since 1995, according to new data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Why it matters: Mass incarceration has gained prominence as a criminal and racial justice issue in recent years, with activists and lawmakers calling it a "stain on our democracy." Black people are vastly overrepresented in U.S. prisons.
- The United States' number of prison and jail inmates itself also dropped to an estimated 2,086,600 at the end of 2019, the fewest since 2003.
- It's worth noting the U.S. incarceration rate fell by over 10% in the past decade, in part due to city- and state-level measures aimed at combating mass incarceration, Axios' Stef Kight writes.
What they're saying: "Changes in criminal laws, as well as prosecution and judicial sentencing patterns, also likely play a role in the declining incarceration rate and number of people behind bars," according to Pew's John Gramlich, who pointed to a Trump-era law that reduced sentences and secured earlier release dates for federal offenders.
Yes, but: Even with the downward trend, the U.S. still has the highest incarceration rate in the world, the World Prison Brief reports.
The big picture: Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd have renewed attention on racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
- Black adults are 5.9 times as likely to be incarcerated than white adults, while Hispanics are 3.1 times as likely, noted The Sentencing Project, a decarceration research and advocacy group, in a 2018 report to the UN.
What to watch: Statistics for 2020 are slated for release later this year, but news reports suggest that the decline likely continued.
Go deeper: Race and criminal justice in America
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a link to the Pew Research Center's analysis of the data.