The prison population more than tripled from about 50,000 inmates in 1985 to a peak of 173,000 inmates in 2006. Similarly, the prison incarceration rate more than doubled from 187 to 474 inmates per 100,000 Californians over the same period. Most of this growth occurred between 1985 and 1998. This period was one of declining crime rates but also included the implementation of tougher sentencing laws and a prison construction boom that activated 20 state prisons.
Between 2006 and 2018, the prison population declined by 26 percent from about 173,000 to 128,000 inmates. Similarly, the prison incarceration rate declined by 32 percent from 474 to 321 inmates per 100,000 Californians over the same period. This decline in the prison population is largely related to various changes in sentencing law. For example, the 2011 realignment shifted responsibility for housing and supervising some felons from the state to the counties. Proposition 47(2014) changed some crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, reducing both state and county correctional populations.
Last Updated: January 2019