Mar 4, 2024 - News

Arkansas' prison population rises

Data: Bureau of Justice Statistics; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios
Data: Bureau of Justice Statistics; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The Arkansas prison population grew 3.5% between 2021 and 2022, Alex Fitzpatrick and Kavya Beheraj report from the latest Justice Department data.

  • However, it was down 2.5% in 2022 from its peak year of 2017.

By the numbers: State and federal prisons in Arkansas held 17,625 inmates in 2022, per the DOJ data, down 445 inmates from its peak of 18,070 in 2017.

The big picture: The nationwide prison population rose 2.1% fr0m 2021 to 2022, marking "the first increase in the combined state and federal prison population in almost a decade," a recent DOJ report found.

Change in prison populations, 2021 to 2022
Data: Bureau of Justice Statistics; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Of note: As of Dec. 31, 2022, about 32% of the U.S. prison population was Black — more than double the 13.6% share of Blacks among the overall U.S. population.

Reality check: The U.S. prison population remains extremely high when compared to the years before the Nixon-era "war on drugs" and "tough on crime" politics took hold.

How it works: The data is based on the National Prisoner Statistics program, an annual DOJ census of U.S. prison populations, capacity and more.

Between the lines: It's especially notable that the nationwide prison population increased late in the pandemic era, given that many prisons suffered significant and often deadly COVID-19 outbreaks.

  • Flashback: Some nonviolent offenders were moved to home confinement during the height of the pandemic to curb viral spread in prisons, which affected not just inmates, but also prison staffers and surrounding communities.

What they're saying: "Despite rhetoric to the contrary, there's a lot of research that shows those kinds of health releases did not have any real negative impact on public safety," David Muhammad, executive director of the advocacy group National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, told NPR.

  • "It is disappointing that we're seeing this increase in populations around the country because we have proven that we can have reductions and be safe."
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