clock menu more-arrow no yes

The federal prison population has fallen below 200,000 for the first time in 8 years

The number of people in federal prisons has exceeded 200,000 since 2007, according to running federal counts. But the federal Bureau of Prisons (as noticed by law professor and blogger Douglas Berman) now reports that number has finally dipped back below the 200,000 mark:

198,953 Total Federal Inmates, last updated November 5, 2015.
The federal prisoner count on the Bureau of Prisons website.
(Bureau of Prisons)

According to the Bureau of Prisons' annual population counts — which are taken at the end of each fiscal year, on September 30 — the last time there were fewer than 200,000 federal prisoners was 2007. That means that sometime between October 2007 and September 2008, the 200,000th concurrent person was booked into a federal prison — and the population hasn't dropped below that number since.

The federal prison population's been on the decline since the end of 2013 or so. But the drop below 200,000 is still pretty rapid. It declined more in the six weeks between September 26 and November 5 than it had in the year between September 30, 2013, and September 30, 2014.

The reason: last week's release of around 6,000 federal prisoners, whose prison terms had been reduced under new rules for sentencing drug crimes.

The change will end up shortening the sentences of tens of thousands of prisoners. That doesn't mean that the federal prison population is going to keep dropping by 6,000 every month. Last weekend's release was so large because it included all prisoners who would have been released already had the new rules been in effect previously.

Still, the shorter sentences will probably lead the release rate to stay higher going forward than it has generally been in the past. That should mean that — unless the government starts sending more people to prison — the federal prison population will be under 200,000 for the foreseeable future, possibly for good.