The United States prison population is still growing, but not as fast as it used to. A report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that this slowdown is largely due to a decline in Georgia's prison population in 2008, when the number of prisoners in the state dropped by nearly three percent.
The report shows 19 other states also saw declines in their prison population, however, few had as large a decrease as in Georgia.
Officials say two factors drove the decline: the release of inmates who served out their sentence and lower incarceration rates. Georgia had the biggest absolute decrease in prison admissions among all states, with 2,509 fewer individuals entering jail in 2008 compared to the year before.
The data also showed a significant decline in the number of African Americans sent to jail on drug charges in 2008. Conversely, the number of whites and Hispanics sentenced to jail increased. William Sabol, with the Bureau of Justice Statistics, says the numbers do not show the reasons behind these fluctuations.
Sabol says while the data is significant, it is not evidence of a long term trend.
“I think you just want to be wary of drawing big conclusions from the data when you just have one or two years of data that are giving some indications of things, but not necessarily demonstrating big trends.”
This seems to be the case in Georgia. Preliminary data for this year shows Georgia’s prison population is growing again, with many of the state’s facilities holding a record number of inmates.