How large is the U.S. prison population?

Drug Policy Question of the Week – 11-9-10

As answered by Mary Jane Borden, Editor of Drug War Facts for the Drug Truth Network on 11-9-10.

Question of the Week: How large is the U.S. prison population?

According to an April 2010 study from the Pew Center on the States,

“Survey data … indicate that as of January 1, 2010, there were 1,404,053 persons under the jurisdiction of state prison authorities, 4,777 (0.3 percent) fewer than there were on December 31, 2008. This marks the first year-to-year drop in the state prison population since 1972.”

However, the report goes on to say,

“In this period, however, the nation’s total prison population increased by 2,061 people because of a jump in the number of inmates under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The federal count rose by 6,838 prisoners, or 3.4 percent in 2009, to an all-time high of 208,118.”

Added together, total state and federal prisoners now equal 1.6 million.

The Pew Center then added local jail inmates to state and federal prisoners to conclude,

“the overall incarcerated population [has] reached an all-time high, with 1 in 100 adults in the United States living behind bars.”

A 2007 report from the International Center for Prison Studies compared prison ratios by country. It found that, excluding the U.S., countries with the highest incarceration rates included Russia (629 per 100,000), Rwanda (604 per 100,000), and Cuba (531 per 100,000).

That report goes on to read,

“The world population in 2008 is estimated at 6,750 million; set against a world prison population of 9.8 million this produces a world prison population rate of 145 per 100,000.”

Recall that the comparative U.S. imprisonment rate is now 1,000 per 100,000.

These facts and others like them can be found in the Prisons, Jails & Probation chapter of Drug War Facts at

Questions concerning these or other facts concerning drug policy can be e-mailed to