Southern States Lead Nation in Incarceration Rates

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A new analysis released by 24/7 Wall St. combs through the recent Bureau of Justice Statistics’ report “Prisoners in 2012,” highlighting which states put the most people behind bars.

The report measured prisoners by state jurisdiction while comparing across states factors like educational attainment and income. State crime rates, pulled from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most recent Uniform Crime Report, were also included in the analysis.

“The consensus that has emerged is incarcerating lots of people is probably effective at reducing crime, and it’s a terribly inefficient way to reduce crime,” John Roman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center, said. The new report raises serious questions about the impact of corrections on crime rates, he said.

With 893 prisoners per 100,000 residents, Louisiana leads the nation in incarcerating its citizens. According to the analysis, Louisiana had the highest rates of murder and non-negligent manslaughter in the country, with approximately 555 violent crimes committed for every 100,000 state residents. Impacting about a fifth of the state populace, Louisiana also had the nation’s third highest poverty rate.

Although nationally crime rates are declining, the second-ranked state, Mississippi, saw its prison population increase 4.1 percent from 2011 to 2012. Mississippi, at approximately 23 percent of the state population, also had more people living in poverty than any other state.

Alabama and Oklahoma, ranked third and fourth on the list, had incarceration rates of 650 and 648 inmates per 100,000 residents, respectively. According to the assessment, Alabama’s violent crime rate ranked 16th in the nation, and Oklahoma ranked 11th. Oklahoma also had the most female prisoners, incarcerating roughly 127 women per 100,000.

Although Texas had the most incarcerated residents in the nation, imprisoning approximately 158,000, the state actually posted a decline twice that of the national average. At 601 prisoners per 100,000 residents, the incarceration rate in Texas remained the nation’s fifth highest overall.

Rounding out the list of states with the nation’s 10 highest rates of incarceration were Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Missouri and Idaho. However, locking up large percentages of state residents may not necessarily result in safer cities, Roman said.

“You don’t have to go the Texas route and lock up lots and lots of people to get a safe city,” Roman said. “Texas has some of the safest big cities in America, but the safest big city in America is probably New York, which has successfully reduced both crime and incarceration rates.”

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