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Prison populations up, but rate of growth drops


August 15, 1999
Web posted at: 9:03 p.m. EDT (0103 GMT)

In this story:

More women behind bars

Black males in 20s have highest incarceration rate


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The nation's federal and state prison population grew by nearly 60,000 in 1998, but declining crime rates helped reduce the rate of growth in the number of inmates to the lowest level since 1979, the Justice Department reported Sunday.

In 1998, the nation's prison population grew 4.8 percent, down from the average annual growth rate of 6.7 percent since 1990, but not quite as low as the 2.3 percent increase in 1979.

By the end of last year, more than 1.8 million U.S. residents were in jail or prison.

That means there were 672 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents, versus 461 such inmates per 100,000 residents in 1990.

The U.S. rate of incarceration is higher than any other country, save Russia. The U.S. prison population last declined in 1972.

Highest rates of incarceration
(Sentences of more than 1 year)
Louisiana: 736 inmates
Texas: 724 inmates
Oklahoma: 622 inmates
(per 100,000 residents)

Lowest rates of incarceration
Minnesota: 117 inmates
Maine: 125 inmates
N. Dakota: 128 inmates
(per 100,000 residents)

More women behind bars

Last year, the number of women in state and federal prisons increased 6.5 percent. By the end of 1998, prisons held 1,217,592 men and 84,427 women.

Since 1990, the number of female prisoners has increased 92 percent; the number of male prisoners is up 67 percent.

According to the report, the increased number of incarcerated men and women is due, in part, to an increase in the average amount of time served in prison -- from 22 months in 1990 to 27 months in 1997.

Although crime rates have continued to drop since 1993, mandatory minimum sentences and longer sentences in general -- coupled with less generous parole -- kept inmates behind bars longer.

Ten percent of prisoners will serve 20 years or more; 5 percent will never be released.

Black males in 20s have highest incarceration rate

Black men in their 20s are the group most likely to be in prison: 8.6 percent of black non-Hispanic men age 25-29 were in prison in 1997, compared with 2.7 percent of Hispanic men, and about 0.9 percent of white men in the same age group.

By the end of 1997, state and federal prisons held more black males (548,900) than white males (541,700).

As of the end of last year, state prisons were operating at 13 percent to 22 percent over capacity; federal prisons were 27 percent over capacity.

In 33 states, prisons were operating at 100 percent or more of capacity. California's system, with a prison population at twice the capacity, was most crowded; Utah, with just 81 percent of its prison cells full, was least crowded.

Seventeen states and Washington, D.C., eased crowding by placing inmates in other states or in federal facilities.

Report: Federal inmates use phones for murder, fraud, drug deals
August 12, 1999
'Torture, plain and simple': Amnesty International reports abuse in women's prisons
March 4, 1999
U.S. accused of human rights abuses in prisons
October 5, 1998
Clinton Administration targets inmate drug use
January 5, 1999

U.S. Department of Justice
  • Bureau of Justice Statistics Prison Statistics
  • Federal Bureau of Prisons
Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics
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