UrbaNerd: NY’s Prison Population has Also Taken on a (Slightly) More Rural Look

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Doug Kerr

The courthouse in Hamilton County, New York. Hamilton had the distinction, in 2006 and again in 2013, of sending the fewest new inmates to state prisons: four in each year.

Today’s New York Times story about the extremely harsh prison sentences being meted out in rural counties made us wonder if the national pattern described in the story—of fewer prison admissions from urban areas but increasing traffic from rural ones—has also occurred in New York State. Reports from the state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (from 2006 and 2013) suggest it has … sort of.


Back in 2006, 47.4 percent of new admissions to the state prison system were from New York City. In 2013, the last year for which numbers are posted, the city’s contribution was a slightly lower 43.2 percent.

Ten years ago, the counties the state considers “upstate-other,” i.e. rural or nearly so, sent 19.4 percent of the state’s new inmates. In 2013, those counties contributed 24.8 percent.*

However, in a slight departure from the national trend, the counties the state considers “upstate urban” (Albany, Broome, Erie, Monroe, Niagara, Oneida, Onondaga, Rensselaer and Schenectady) have a slightly bigger presence in the admissions stream in 2013 (21.3 percent) versus 2006 (20.9 percent).

Meanwhile, New York’s “suburban” counties (Nassau, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester) have seen their share drop from 12.2 percent to 10.7 percent.

The overall number of admissions to state prisons has been falling steadily, from 15,300 in 2006 to 13,700 in 2013. Over that period, admissions from the city, suburban and upstate urban counties fell each year. But the number of new prisoners from the rural counties increased.

What’s just as interesting is that these trends have not eliminated New York’s very striking skew between prison admissions and population share.

If you look at the five-year periods of 2002-6 and 2009-13, the city and upstate urban counties remain over-represented in prison admissions—in other words, their share of entrants exceeds their share of the population—though the gap is smaller now.

The “upstate other” (i.e. rural) counties have gone from being slightly under-represented to slightly over-represented.

But the suburban counties remain vastly under-represented in prison admissions.

Share of NYS population, 2015 Share of new admissions to NYS prisons, 2002-2006 Share of new admissions to NYS prisons, 2009-2013
New York City 43% 51% 45%
Suburban Downstate 21% 11% 11%
Upstate Urban 17% 19% 22%
Upstate Other (rural) 19% 18% 22%



* For those scoring at home, the “upstate other” (i.e., rural) counties are Allegany, Cattaraugus, Cayuga, Chautauqua, Chemung, Chenango, Clinton, Columbia, Cortland, Delaware, Dutchess, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Genesee, Greene, Hamilton, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Livingston, Madison, Montgomery, Ontario, Orange, Orleans, Oswego, Otsego, Putnam, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Schoharie, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Sullivan, Tioga, Tompkins, Ulster, Warren, Washington, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates.

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