Most of the people in New York jails are now from upstate, not from New York

  • The population of those incarcerated has shifted dramatically from downstate to upstate, a 2022 nonprofit report found.
  • In 2000, approximately 66% of New Yorkers incarcerated in state prisons were from the five boroughs. The number dropped to about 50% in 2010 and was 42% in 2020.
  • The shift may have been influenced by changing views on incarceration, sentencing, and crime rates.

The crack cocaine that sentenced young Juma Sampson to 25 years in prison in 2000 weighed about the same as half a bar of soap.

If he’d managed to sell all 70 grams that day — or even that week, that month — he probably wouldn’t have made more than $3,000, Sampson said.

After the 23-year-old was arrested trying to sell the drugs to an undercover cop in Rochester, he was instead prosecuted as part of two crime-fighting initiatives: One imposed a tougher sentence for selling crack cocaine compared to its powder alternative. The other, after police found an unregistered firearm at his girlfriend’s home, referred Sampson’s case to federal court, which imposed higher penalties on illegal gun charges, often served out of state. Sampson said the gun was not his.

His first adult offense — a nonviolent crime — landed Sampson 25 years in a Pennsylvania jail cell nearly five hours away. He was released in early 2019.

Juma Sampson is now a published author and fashion designer.

The neighborhood on the west side of Rochester where Sampson grew up has one of the highest community incarceration rates in the state.

“We’re not taught downtown what it takes to be successful,” said Sampson, now 45. “We only know what it takes to survive, and that’s never going to be enough.”

People in New York jails are increasingly coming from upstate, part of a decades-long reversal of incarcerated New Yorkers from New York City’s five boroughs, according to the findings of an analysis of 2022 census data by the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit study prison trends at a national level Level.

Among the findings:

  • Black, Latino and low-income urban communities make up a majority of the state’s prison population, which numbered about 42,000 in the 2020 census, the Prison Policy Initiative found in its report.
  • While some New York City boroughs have higher incarceration rates, most people who go to prison come from communities like Albany, Monticello, Newburgh, and Rochester.