Mar 12, 2024 - News

Prison population rises in Pennsylvania

The prison population in Pennsylvania increased by 1.9% between 2021 and 2022, but declined 26.5% since its peak in 2011, according to the latest Justice Department data.

By the numbers: Nearly 38,000 people were in state or federal prisons in Pennsylvania in 2022, per DOJ data, compared to more than 51,500 in the state's peak year.

The big picture: The U.S. prison population rose 2.1% between 2021 and 2022, marking "the first increase in the combined state and federal prison population in almost a decade," a recent DOJ report found, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick and Kavya Beheraj write.

Of note: As of Dec. 31, 2022, nearly a third of the nationwide prison population was Black, more than double Black Americans' 13.6% share of the overall U.S. population.

Zoom in: Black Pennsylvanians are about seven times more likely to end up in state prison than whites, per an Inquirer investigation. The rate of Black Philadelphians being detained is nine times higher than white residents.

  • More than half of prisoners in maximum and "close" security prisons are Black compared to a little more than a third of minimum-security prisoners, per the Inquirer.

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

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

What they're saying: Some critics opposed releasing nonviolent offenders to home confinement during the pandemic's peak to curb viral spread in prisons, but David Muhammad of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform told NPR the releases didn't have "any real negative impact" on public safety.

The bottom line: Emory University historian Kali Nicole Gross told the Inquirer in 2022 that, despite efforts to enact prison reforms, "anti-Black prejudice" is still "endemic" to the system.


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