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- Federal data on imprisonment rates supports the claim that New York has the lowest rate among states with populations of more than 10 million people.
- Imprisonment rates in some smaller states, including Massachusetts, Maine, and Minnesota, are lower than the rate in New York.
To save money, New York state has announced a plan to close six prisons.
In a press release from the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision about the plan to close prisons, the department included a claim that New York has "the lowest imprisonment rate of any large state."
Criminal justice issues promise to be hot-button topics in the New York governor and attorney general elections next year, so we wondered if this claim is correct.
We reached out to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, which oversees prisons and parole, for evidence of its claim. Spokeswoman Rachel Connors directed us to data from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. Connors said her department defines a "large state" as one whose population is more than 10 million people.
Using the department’s definition, the large states are California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.
Rates of imprisonment are published by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. In data released in October 2020, "Prisoners in 2019," researchers found that New York had an imprisonment rate of 224 people per 100,000 U.S. residents, lower than the other large states. And it’s lower by quite a bit compared with some of the other large states. The rates in Texas and Georgia were 529 and 507, respectively. The large state whose rate came closest to New York is Illinois, where 302 people are incarcerated for every 100,000 residents. The rates include all sentenced prisoners, regardless of sex or age, under jurisdiction of state or federal correctional authorities.
New York, however, does not have the lowest imprisonment rate across the country. Because the claim only concerns large states, that fact is not under consideration for our ruling here. States including Massachusetts, Maine, and Minnesota had lower imprisonment rates than New York.
The federal data set referenced by the state Department of Corrections is used by advocacy organizations and others to study differences in state jail populations.
The Vera Institute of Justice, which also tracks imprisonment rates, collected imprisonment data from 2020 and early 2021. In its report published in June, imprisonment rates in spring 2021 were lowest in New York out of the nine largest states.
A report published in September by the Prison Policy Institute also ranked New York lowest out of the nine largest states. That analysis used data on local jails, state prisons, federal prisons, and other confinement facilities.
The department responsible for state prisons and parole supervision claimed New York’s imprisonment rate was the lowest of any large state.
Federal data supports this claim, when "large state" is defined by having a population of more than 10 million people.
We rate this claim True.
New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision statement on prison closures, Nov. 8, 2021.
WIVB, "6 prisons across NYS to close; some functions moving to Chautauqua County," Nov. 8, 2021. Accessed Nov. 15, 2021.
WETM, "Southport Correctional Facility set to close in 2022," Nov. 8, 2021. Accessed Nov. 15, 2021.
U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Prisoners in 2019," October 2020. Accessed Nov. 15, 2021.
U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Correctional Populations in the United States, 2019 – Statistical Tables," July 2021. Accessed Nov. 15, 2021.
Sentencing Project, State-by-State Data, based on U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics data from 2019. Accessed Nov. 15, 2021.
World Population Review, US States Ranked by Population 2021, based on 2017 Census state estimates. Accessed Nov. 15, 2021.
U.S. Census Population and Housing Estimates Database, 2010-2019. Accessed Nov. 15, 2021.
Email interview, Rachel Connors, spokesperson, New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, Nov. 15, 2021.
Email interview, Wanda Bertram, communications strategist, Prison Policy Initiative, Nov. 15, 2021.
Email interview, Derek Rosenfeld, media strategist, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, Nov. 15, 2021.
Email interview, Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Ph.D., senior research analyst, The Sentencing Project, Nov. 15, 2021.
Vera Institute of Justice, "People in Jail and Prison in Spring 2021," June 2021. Accessed Nov. 16, 2021.
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