Feb 26, 2024 - News

Utah sees post-pandemic rise in prison population

Data: Bureau of Justice Statistics; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Bureau of Justice Statistics; Chart: Axios Visuals

Utah's prison population grew by nearly 2% between 2021 and 2022, according to a report from the latest Justice Department data — an increase that has been attributed to the state's growing population.

By the numbers: Despite the recent rise, Utah's prison population shrank by almost 14% between 2022 and 2012.

  • About 6,000 people were in state prison in Utah in 2022, compared to almost 7,000 in 2012. Utah does not have federal prisons.

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," per the DOJ.

Zoom in: Black, Latino and Indigenous Utahns are disproportionately represented in the state's prisons and jails compared to their share of the population, according to data from the Prison Policy Initiative.

  • In 2021, Black Utahns accounted for about 1% of the state population but made up 8% of prisoners.

Zoom out: As of Dec. 31, 2022, about 32% of the nationwide prison population was Black — more than double Black Americans' 13.6% share of the overall U.S. population.

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

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

Between the lines: It's especially notable that the nationwide prison population increased in the late 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 prisoners, 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 National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, an advocacy group, 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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