By Robert Longley , About.com GuideMay 1, 2012
Not to be confused with people in federal and state prisons, the inmate population of U.S. local jails dropped for the third straight year, reaching its lowest level since 2002, according to the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).
Jail or Prison? Close to, but not exactly like prep-schools for prisons, local jails are run by city and county law enforcement agencies to hold inmates awaiting trial or sentencing, or serving sentences of less than one year. Federal and state prisons house inmates who have been processed through the court system and are facing longer sentences.
According to the BJS report, Jail Inmates at Midyear 2011 , the nationwide inmate population in local jails fell by 1.8%, from 748,728 to 735,601 between June 2010 to June 2011. In June 2011, 236 of every 100,000 us residents were confined in local jails, down from 238 per 100,000 in June 2003.
About 61% or nearly 488,000 of the 735,601 inmates in local jails in June 2011 had not been convicted of a crime, but were awaiting trial.
Large local jails -- those with a daily average of 1,000 or more inmates - accounted for 53% of the total decline of 13,127 inmates reported by jails in 2011.
Room for More: Local jails won't be turning on any "No Vacancy" signs, as they were only 84% full in June 2011, the lowest rate of inmate occupancy since 1984. By June 2011, the combined inmate holding capacity of the nation's local jails had grown to 877,302 prisoners, up from 866,782 in June 2010.
During 2011, about 11.8 million people were admitted to local jails, compared to 12.9 million in 2010 and 13.6 million in 2008. Keep in mind that these admittance figures include many people who spend only a few hours or days in jail.
Home Jailing? The BJS report shows that local jails were also responsible for supervising an additional 62,816 offenders who resided outside jail. These offenders included 11,950 being monitored electronically, 11,680 doing community service, 10,464 on release pending trial, and 11,369 on weekend work-release programs. Another 17,353 offenders were allowed to live at home, without electronic monitoring. These offenders were supervised by required daily reporting or mandatory participation in treatment programs.
Total Jail and Prison Population: Based on the latest available data, the combined inmate population of the nation's correctional facilities is currently about 2.35 million; including 735,601 in local jails, 1.4 million in state prisons and 217, 247 in federal prisons.
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