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Who Do We Lock Up? Four Key Characteristics of Cal’s Prison Population

Includes: interactive charts and maps

Who’s actually behind bars in California? Here are four key characteristics of California’s prison population:

Geography

The majority of inmates come from the southern part of the state. A whopping 50,000 – or 34 percent of all prisoners – come from Los Angeles County alone. But the highest incarceration rates are concentrated in poorer counties in the Central Valley and the Inland Empire. Leading the charge is Kings County in the San Joaquin Valley, where nearly 1 percent of the entire population is in state prison.

Click on the map below for info on the number of prisoners who come from each county in California, what percent of the prison population each county contributes, and what percent of each county’s total population is in prison.

Source: CDCR 2011 data

Race

The majority of prisoners are non-white. The largest group is Hispanic. But African Americans – who make up less than 7 percent of the general population and almost 30 percent of the prison population – are dramatically more likely to be imprisoned than any other group.

prison stats

Source: Public Policy Institute of California (using 2010 CDCR and 2010 Census data)

 

Age

The prison population is aging. Currently nearly 20 percent of inmates are age 50 and up, about quadruple the rate from 20 years ago. Meanwhile, the percent of prisoners under age 25 has steadily dropped.

Source: CDCR 2010 data

Gender

California’s prison population is overwhelmingly male. Men make up nearly 95 percent of all inmates. 30 of the system’s 33 facilities are for men.

Source: CDCR 2010 data

Realignment Explained

Last October California began a dramatic overhaul of its severely overcrowded prison system. Assembly Bill 109 – known as realignment – had the objective of shedding more than 30,000 inmates from in-state prisons and significantly cutting the prison budget. At the time the law took effect, there were more than 143,000 inmates behind bars in California’s 33 prisons. That’s almost twice the system’s design capacity. Meanwhile, California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation received about $10 billion a year from the state’s thinning general fund – over 11 percent of last year’s entire spending plan, more than was spent on the University of California and California State University systems combined. Continue reading

Is California’s Prison Realignment Experiment Working?

Depends whom you ask (real helpful, huh?).

On the one hand, the state has significantly reduced its prison population since realignment went into effect last October. At the end of September 2011, there were 144,456 inmates in the state’s 33 prisons, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. (Note: that does not represent California’s total prison population, which also includes prisoners in in-state and out-of-state private facilities, and those in work camps).

California’s 33 prisons are designed to hold about 80,000 prisoners (based on one inmate/cell). So at the start of realignment, the prisons were at about 180% overcapacity. Continue reading

Shouldering the Burden: California’s New Jail Boom (interactive map)

California’s realignment process has resulted in many more new low-level offenders placed under county supervision rather than being put in the state prison system. Although the overall jail population has not changed significantly, many counties across the state have experienced a significant increase in their local sentenced inmate populations.

Click on each county below for average jail population rates of sentenced inmates between the third quarter of 2011 (before realignment began) and the first quarter of 2012.

jail legend

Data Source: California Board of State and Community Corrections

How One Law Helped Pack California’s Prisons

A single state law from the 1970s completely transformed the way California sentences its criminals.

The Uniform Determinate Sentencing Law was signed in 1976 by Governor Jerry Brown (yes,  same guy). Shortly thereafter the prison population metastasized.

Here’s what happened:

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Building the Empire: California’s Prison Building Bonanza

In 1950, California had four state prison facilities and about 11,500 prisoners. By 2006, at the peak of the state’s prison overcrowding, there were 33 prisons and more than 172,000 inmates! That’s an increase of more than 900 percent!

Since 1950: California’s Prison Building Boom

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Packing the House: The Back Story on California’s Prison Boom

California’s prisons are old, crumbling, and packed to the gills with inmates. The inmate population  exploded in the late 1980s and 90s. It rose almost 900 percent over three decades and reached an all-time high in 2006, with more than 172,000 inmates behind bars. During that same period, the state almost tripled the number of prison facilities: Continue reading