BJS: Bureau of Justice Statistics

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Reentry Trends in the U.S.

Releases from state prison

At least 95% of all state prisoners will be released from prison at some point; nearly 80% will be released to parole supervision

Number of releases | Method of release | Releases by county of jurisdiction | Most serious offense and time served

Number of releases

Despite a decline in prison release rates from 1990 to 2000, the number of prisoners released each year continued to grow.

In 2001, 592,000 offenders were released from state prison, a 46% increase over the 405,400 offenders that were released in 1990. In 2002, a projected 595,000 state inmates will be released to the community.

The release rate of state prisoners declined from 37% in 1990 to 31% in 1994. Since 1994, the rate of release has remained stable and was 33% in 2001.
Release rate: the number of releases per 100 sentenced prisoners at the beginning of each year, plus the number admitted during the year.
Five States (California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas) accounted for nearly half of all releases from state prison in 2001.

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Releases by county of jurisdiction

  • The top 50 counties in participating NCRP States accounted for 38% of all releases from state prison in 2001.
  • In 2001, Los Angeles County, CA, had the largest number of releases from prison (37,080), followed by Cook County, IL, (17,480), and San Bernardino, CA, (10,183).
  • California had 18 counties in the top 50, followed by Florida (5), New Jersey (4), New York (4), and Texas (4). These 35 counties accounted for 29% of all releases from state prisons during 2001.

To Table of releases in the top 50 counties To table of releases in the top 50 counties

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Method of release

Since 1990, mandatory parole releases have increased, while discretionary releases have decreased.

To view data, click on the chart.

Method of release from State prison, 1980-99[D]
Discretionary releases to parole dropped from 39% of releases in 1990 to 24% in 2000.

Discretionary parole exists when a parole board has authority to conditionally release prisoners based on a statutory or administrative determination of eligibility.
Mandatory releases to parole have steadily increased from 116,857 in 1990 to 221,414 in 2000 (from 29% of all state prison releases to 39%).

Mandatory parole generally occurs in jurisdictions using determinate sentencing statutes in which inmates are conditionally released from prison after serving a specified portion of their original sentence minus any good time earned.

About 112,000 state prisoners were released unconditionally through an expiration of their sentence in 2000, up from 51,288 in 1990.

16 States have abolished discretionary parole for all offenders

States that have abolished discretionary parole, 2000
All offenders   Certain violent offenders

Arizona Minnesota   Alaska     
Californiaa Mississippi   Louisiana 
Delaware North Carolina   New York 
Floridab Ohiod   Tennessee
Illinois Oregon    
Indiana Virginia    
Kansasc Washington    
Maine Wisconsin    

aIn 1976 the Uniform Determinate Sentencing Act abolished discretionary parole for all offenses except some violent crimes with a long sentence of a sentence to life.
bIn 1995 parole eligibility was abolished for offenses with a life sentence and a 25-year mandatory term.
cExcludes a few offenses, primarily 1st-degree murder and intentional 2nd-degree murder.
dExcludes murder and aggravated murder.

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Most serious offense and time served

Since 1990, drug offenders have comprised an increasing percentage of prison releases.

To view data, click on the chart.

Releases from State prison, by most serious offense, 1985-99[D]
  • Nearly 33% of state prison releases in 1999 were drug offenders (up from 26% in 1990), 25% were violent offenders (same as 1990), and 31% were property offenders (down from 39% in 1990).

  • Inmates released by parole boards in 1999 served 35 months in prison and jail while those released through mandatory parole had served 33 months. Also see Characteristics of releases to state parole.

  • By 2000, 30 States and the District of Columbia had adopted the Federal truth-in-sentencing standard that requires Part 1 violent offenders to served not less than 85% of their sentence in prison before becoming eligible for release.

  • All offenders released for the first time in 1999 served on average 49% of their sentence up from 38% in 1990.

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BJS Sources:
Prisoners in 2002, July, 2003
Prisoners and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2002, April, 2003
Probation and Parole in the United States, 2002, August, 2003
Trends in State Parole, 1990-2000, October, 2001
Truth in Sentencing in State Prisons, January, 1999.

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