Inmate Population In Indian Country Jails Increased 8% At Mid-2021

September 1, 2022

By a Biometrica staffer

The inmate population at Indian country jails increased 8% at midyear 2021 to a total of 2,180 inmates held in 80 jails, from the 2,020 inmates held in 82 facilities at midyear 2020, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) said in a report this week. The midyear 2021 inmate population was 25% lower than the midyear 2019 population, when 2,890 inmates were confined in Indian country jails.

A comparison with midyear 2019, along with midyear 2020, is necessary to provide a more accurate picture. Why? Because the midyear 2020 numbers were a 30% decline when compared with the previous year (i.e. midyear 2019 to midyear 2020), and the lowest since 2004, mostly due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic across all spheres of life in that year.

The Pandemic Effect

The lingering impact of Covid-19, and the administrative measures taken in response to it, was the reason behind the decline in the midyear 2021 number when compared with the midyear 2019 one too, the BJS report says.

Image source: Screengrab from the BJS Jails in Indian Country, 2021 report

The pandemic’s impact on Indian country jails began in March 2020, with a one-month drop of 870 inmates between the end of February to the end of March, the report adds. By the last weekday in December 2020, the number of jail inmates (1,760) had dropped by 1,180 since the end of February 2020. The declines in the inmate population since midyear 2019 resulted from both a reduction in admissions to Indian country jails and expedited releases.

From midyear 2020 to midyear 2021, the inmate population in facilities rated to hold 50 or more inmates saw the largest increase (up 10% or 130 inmates), followed by facilities rated to hold 25 to 49 inmates (up 5% or 30 inmates), the report says. The inmate population in facilities rated to hold fewer than 25 inmates remained relatively stable.

Although there was an increase in the overall inmate population, the rated capacity of Indian country jails remained relatively stable. Hence, the jail occupancy rate went up to 52% at midyear 2021 from 48% at midyear 2020.

Decline In Jail Staff

At midyear 2021, jails in Indian country employed around 1,580 persons, down 8% from midyear 2020 (1,710) and 16% from midyear 2019 (1,880). Nearly one in five jail staff tested positive for Covid-19 between July and December 2020.

During the two-year period between midyear 2019 to 2021, the number of jail operations staff (correctional officers, guards, and other staff who spent more than half of their time supervising inmates) declined 18% (down 240).

Since midyear 2020, jail operations staff had the largest decline, i.e. down 13% or by 160 staff, per the report. Jails held 2.0 inmates per jail operations staff at midyear 2021, up from the ratio of 1.6 to 1 at midyear 2020, due to an increase in inmates and a corresponding decline in jail operations staff.

Image source: Screengrab from the BJS Jails in Indian Country, 2021 report

Key Highlights

Here are some other key highlights from the BJS report:

  • Admissions to Indian country jails were 8% higher in June 2021 than in the same period on a year-ago basis, but 40% lower than in June 2019.
  • More inmates were held for violent (up 6%) and non-violent offenses (up 10%) at midyear 2021 than at midyear 2020. The number of inmates held for domestic violence increased by 40, while those held for other unspecified offenses increased by 30.
  • At midyear 2021, inmates held for violent offenses accounted for 41% of all inmates held in Indian country jails, similar to 2020 (42%), but well above the 2010–2019 midyear average of about 30% of all inmates held.
  • One inmate died and 27 attempted suicide in Indian country jails during the 12 months ending on June 30, 2021, based on reports from facilities holding about 95% of the midyear inmate population. Altogether, jails reported 21 deaths in custody from midyear 2010 to midyear 2021.
  • Around 10,680 Covid-19 tests were conducted on persons held in Indian country jails between July and December 2020. About 6% of those tests were positive for the virus.
  • Of the 31,020 persons admitted to Indian country jails between July and December 2020, about 22% received expedited release in response to the pandemic.
  • The average length of stay (the time in custody from admission to release) for inmates remained stable (11 days) from June 2020 to June 2021. However, the average length of stay was longer at larger facilities.
  • At midyear 2021, about 36% of beds in facilities rated to hold fewer than 25 inmates were occupied, and more than half (53%) were occupied in facilities rated to hold 25 or more inmates.
  • Six facilities were operating above their rated capacity at midyear 2021, an increase from a comparable 4 facilities at midyear 2020 but a decrease from 10 facilities at midyear 2019. Eleven facilities were operating above their rated capacity on the most crowded day in June 2021, down from 13 facilities in June 2020 and 28 facilities in June 2019.
  • Adult inmates accounted for 94% of all inmates held in Indian country jails at midyear 2021. The number of female inmates (up 100) increased more than the number of male inmates (up 60) from midyear 2020 to midyear 2021.