For the first time in decades, the nation's jail population declined by 2.3 percent from June 2008 to June 2009, according to a study by the Department of Justice released today.
The number of inmates in U.S. jails dropped by 17,900, the report stated. Jails differ from prisons since they are viewed as temporary holding facilities before trials or court hearings.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, this is the first real decline in jail population since it began conducting the survey in 1982.
Justice Department officials said the rate of annual incarcerations has been dropping since 2005, which has finally resulted in a drop in the jail population after years of increases.
"Jail population declines were mostly concentrated in large jails," the report stated. "Among the 171 jail jurisdictions with 1,000 or more inmates on an average day, two-thirds reported a decline. Seven jurisdictions reported a drop of more than 500 inmates (accounting for 29 percent of the decline nationwide)."
Miami-Dade County, Fla., with a drop of 1,090, and Orange County, Fla., with a drop of 944, led the nation in overall decline in their inmate population.
Allen Moore, public information officer for the Orange County Corrections Department, said that going back to the year 2000, the county reviewed how they handled their cases and increased the number of initial appearances for defendants to reduce the population in their jails and get cases moving more efficiently.
In Orange County, the jail population has steadily declined since August 2008, when they had about 4,400 inmates. Currently the county has 3,200 inmates locked up. The population of the entire U.S. prison system increased from 2000 to 2008 before finally decreasing slightly in 2008 by 0.8 percent.
According to the latest Justice Department information, at the end of 2008, the U.S. prison population stood at 1.6 million individuals being incarcerated.