By a Biometrica staffer
The inmate population at Indian country jails fell 30% at mid-year 2020 to a total of 2,020 inmates held in 82 jails, from 2,890 inmates held in 83 facilities at mid-year 2019, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) said on Thursday, Oct. 21. That’s the lowest it’s been since 2004, when 1,745 persons were confined in Indian country jails.
It’s the Covid-19 pandemic that has led to the decline, the BJS added in its report. The impact of Covid-19 on Indian country jails began in March 2020, with a drop of 30% in the inmate population between the end of February and the end of March. Admissions to Indian country jails decreased 45% from June 2019 to June 2020, from 9,620 persons to 5,330.
By the last weekday in April 2020, the number of jail inmates dropped to a low of 1,950. The decline in the inmate population since mid-year 2019 resulted from both a reduction in admissions to jails and expedited releases from March to June of 2020. In contrast, between 2000 and 2020, the number of operating jail facilities in Indian country has increased to 82 from 68.
Here are some other key highlights from the BJS report:
- The number of inmates held for a violent offense increased 8% and the number held for a nonviolent offense dropped 44% from mid-year 2019 to mid-year 2020. At mid-year 2020, the number of inmates held for violent offenses accounted for 42% of all inmates held in Indian country jails, well above the 2010–2019 mid-year average of about 30% of all inmates held for these offenses.
- From mid-year 2019 to mid-year 2020, the number of inmates held for aggravated assault increased 29%, the number held for domestic violence declined 6%, and the number held for rape or sexual assault and other violent offenses did not change. The percentage of all inmates held for aggravated assault increased from 10% at mid-year 2019 to 18% at mid-year 2020. The percentage of all inmates held for domestic violence increased from 13% at mid-year 2019 to 17% at mid-year 2020.
- The number of inmates held for a nonviolent offense declined across all categories from mid-year 2019 to mid-year 2020. The largest decreases were in the number of inmates held for public intoxication and other unspecified nonviolent offenses.
- From March to June 2020, about 2,130 Covid-19 tests were conducted on inmates held in Indian county jails. Around 9% of these tests were positive.
- Of the 21,190 persons admitted to Indian country jails from March to June 2020, about 7% (1,510) received expedited release in response to the pandemic.
- From the same March to June period last year, about 5% (85) of the 1,710 staff employed in Indian country jails tested positive for the Covid-19 virus.
- Large declines were reported for facilities regardless of size. Since mid-year 2019, the 25 facilities rated to hold 50 or more inmates saw the largest decline (down 32%, or 620 inmates) in their inmate population. The 25 facilities rated to hold fewer than 25 inmates saw the smallest decline in their inmate population (down 26%, or 44 inmates).
- Inmates’ expected average length of stay (the time in custody from admission to release) increased from 9 to 11 days between June 2019 and June 2020. The average length of stay was longer in larger facilities. In June 2020, inmates in facilities rated to hold 49 or fewer inmates spent an average of six days in jail from admission to release, similar to June 2019. Inmates in facilities rated to hold 50 or more inmates spent about 18 days on average in June 2020, up from about 11 days in June 2019.