The Causes of Growth in Prison Admissions and Populations

46 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2011 Last revised: 28 Nov 2011

See all articles by John F. Pfaff

John F. Pfaff

Fordham University School of Law

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: July 12, 2011


The explosive growth in the US prison population is well documented, but its causes are poorly understood. In this paper I exploit previously-unused data to define precisely where the growth is occurring. In short, the growth in prison populations has been driven almost entirely by increases in felony filings per arrest. All other possible sites of growth — arrests, admissions per filing, convictions per filings and admissions per conviction, and even (perhaps most surprisingly) time served per admission — have barely changed over the past four decades. But the growth in filings tracks that of admissions almost perfectly. This paper demonstrates the importance of felony filings and considers some of the possible explanations for their growth.

Keywords: Prisons, Crime, Incarceration, Prosecutors

JEL Classification: K14, K42

Suggested Citation

Pfaff, John F., The Causes of Growth in Prison Admissions and Populations (July 12, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

John F. Pfaff (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

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