A report out this week from USAFacts explored how the US jail population changed during the pandemic — noting that the US jail population had fallen by 25% from 2019 to 2020.
Jails differ from prisons in that they are usually reserved for those awaiting trials or serving sentences under a year for less serious crimes. The falling jail numbers, which followed a ten-year stretch of relative stability, were largely attributed to an increase in expedited releases and a fall in arrests, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Much of the reduction took place at the beginning of the pandemic as authorities looked to ditch some jailhouse detainees to prevent overcrowding, bringing forward the release dates of around 28% of inmates.
The fall in inmates varied depending on charges, with less serious misdemeanor charges seeing the largest fall — 45% year-on-year — across the country.
More broadly the nation experienced an equally-dramatic drop in arrests, with total arrests dropping from 10.1m to 7.6m according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime report, which also contributed to a smaller jail population.