Prisons are just one piece of the correctional pie. When states are judged solely on their incarceration rates, we are ignoring the leading type of correctional control: probation. In fact, some of the states that appear to be least punitive are the most likely to put their residents under some other form of correctional control, reported Prisonpolicy.org. Other states are making changes to their criminal justice systems that shift large numbers of people from one part of the correctional pie to another.
For the first time, this report aggregates data on all of the kinds of correctional control: federal prisons, state prisons, local jails, juvenile incarceration, civil commitment, Indian Country jails, parole and, lastly but importantly, probation. We make the data accessible in one nationwide chart and 100 state-specific pie charts.
Incarceration rates do not always tell the complete story of the criminal justice system in each state. Notably, some of the states that are the least likely to send people to prison, such as Rhode Island and Minnesota, are among the most punitive when other methods of correctional control are taken into account. Other states that rank in the bottom half of incarceration rates nationwide, such as Ohio and Idaho, end up surpassing Louisiana — the state notorious for being the global leader in incarceration — in rates of correctional control. Georgia is punitive from any angle, as the only state that is both a top jailer and leader in probation.
We find that this tremendous variation between the states is largely driven by differences in the use of probation, which is the leading form of correctional control nationally. A majority (56%) of people under the control of the American criminal justice system are on probation. Despite receiving little public attention, probation is a significant component of each state’s criminal justice system. While states vary when it comes to their use of prisons and jails, there is far greater variation in their use of probation. For example, in Nevada, 31% of the people under correctional control are on probation whereas in Georgia, a whopping 78% of people under correctional control are on probation.