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1990 U.S. Prison Population Stats

By Ed Mead

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics has just come out with two more books containing figures on the nation's prison population. The first is a 32-page pamphlet entitled Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities-1990, and the second one is a 189-page book named Correctional Populations in the United States, 1990. These materials were not what I would call interesting reading. And I doubt I can make the digestion of this kind of stuff anything close to fun. But here goes

First off, what states do you think had the most adults under some form of correctional supervision (on probation, in jail, in prison, or on parole) during 1990? If you guessed Texas you were correct. A total of 4.14 percent of all adult Texans are directly under the state's thumb. A surprising second was Maryland, with 3.31 percent of its adults under its correctional authority. And right behind Maryland comes Washington state, with 3.03 percent of its adult citizens either behind bars or under some form of direct supervision. The national average is 2.35 percent.

When we take the actual number of the U.S. resident adult population who are under correctional care or in custody, and then break that down into percentages by race, we come up with some interesting figures. Only 1.7 percent of the adult White population is locked up or under supervision, yet 7.9 percent of the Black population is so situated. 4.2 percent of qualifying people are male, and only .6 percent are female.

There are also figures on the average square feet per inmate by facility in state and federal prisons during 1990. I won't dwell overly long on this other than to say that the national average is 62.4 square feet per inmate in facilities housing between 500 to 999 people. Minnesota had the highest figure with 114.3 square feet; Rhode Island had the lowest with 41.2 square feet (California narrowly missed being last with a mere 41.7 square feet per prisoner). Washington state came in with a not very respectable 53.4 square feet.

Another interesting Washington fact is that out of 3,767 correctional employees, only 175 are assigned to educational functions, and many of those are working in clerical or administrative capacities. In terms of money being spent per prisoner on correctional care, Minnesota spends the most at $30,302 a year. President Clinton's home state of Arkansas has the lowest annual operating expense per inmate of only $7,557. Washington admits to paying a relatively high $19,742 (but their figures do not include administrative costs, such as running the DOC bureaucracy, as part of this amount).

While Blacks make up only a small percentage of the total U.S. population, they are well over represented on America's death rows. As of December 31, 1990, there were 2,356 men and women under death sentences. Of these 1,375 of them were White and 943 were Black (with 38 listed as `other'). In some states the contrast between the numbers of Blacks and Whites on death rows was quite overwhelming; even though only a small portion of the population is Black they often constuted nearly twice the number of Whites sentenced to death. In the Northeastern U.S. states there were 80 Blacks as opposed to only 52 Whites under sentence of death. In Pennsylvania the ratio was 74 Blacks to 46 Whites. In Indiana the figures are 79 Blacks to 49 Whites. And so on.

Any readers interested is obtaining more detailed information should write to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Box 6000, Rockville, MD 20850, and ask for Correctional Populations in the United States, 1990.

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