The Changing Composition of California's Prison Population

Joseph M. Hayes, Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC)
Amanda G. Bailey, Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC)

California’s prison system is the third largest in the U.S., behind the Federal and Texas state systems. We first describe California’s prison population, comparing it to the state’s general population. We focus on demographic and human capital classifications, including race/ethnicity, gender, age, nativity, citizenship status, and educational attainment. Focusing on the prison population, we then examine variation in geographical and corrections-related characteristics (e.g., incarceration history, offense type, sentence), identifying patterns by demographic category. Finally, we chronicle the changing size and composition of California’s prison population over the last 20 years. We highlight changes coinciding with relevant legislation, such as California’s Three Strikes and You’re Out law and Proposition 36, which provides alternatives to imprisonment for some drug offenders. We use individual record-level data from the Survey of Inmates in State and Correctional Facilities and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to obtain the most disaggregated picture of this population.

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Presented in Poster Session 4: Inequality, Labor Force, Education, Gender, Race/Ethnicity, Religion, Policy