Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

BJS Says 1 in 15 Adults Will Go to Prison

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)
reported in August 2003 that, if current American incarceration rates continue, 1 of every 15 persons born in the year 2001 will be incarcerated at some point in their adult lives. The report also found that at the end of 2001 there were 1,319,000 adults confined in State or Federal prison and approximately 4,299,000 living former prisoners. That is, about 1 in 37 living U.S. adults either were serving time or had served time in prison.

The BJS report tracked the prevalence of imprisonment in the United States from 1974 to 2001. In 1974, there were 216,000 men and women in State or Federal prison and 1,603,000 estimated living former prisoners. By 2001, these numbers had jumped to 1,319,000 adults incarcerated and 4,299,000 living former prisoners. This represents an increase from 1.3% of the adult U.S. population in 1974 to 2.7% of the adult U.S. population in 2001. Analyzing current incarceration rates, assuming they do not change, the BJS found that 6.6% (1 in 15) of all persons born in 2001 will be incarcerated as adults.

The report found that the increased incarceration "occurred as a result of an increase in the rates of first incarceration." In 1974, the number of persons imprisoned for the first time was 44 per 100,000. By 2001, the rate reached 129 per 100,000 adults. In addition, the age range of persons most likely to be locked up decreased. In 1974, the age range with the greatest number of current and former prisoners was 45-54 years. By 2001, the age range of 35-44 years held the largest number of current and former prisoners. Moreover, from 1974 to 2001, "the rise in first incarceration rates had the largest effects on younger age groups," impacting the group aged 25-29 most, tripling their incarceration rate.

Men still vastly outnumber women in total adults and percentages of adults ever incarcerated in a State or Federal prison. The report noted, however, that in 1974 only 0.2% of American women were ever incarcerated; by 2001, that rate had only risen to 0.5%.

The greatest disparity seen in incarceration continues to be among minorities, especially Black males. In 2001, about 16.6% of adult Black males were current or former State or Federal prisoners. This rate was more than double the rate for Hispanic males (7.7%) and more than six times the rate for White males (2.6%). Although female numbers and rates were significantly lower, the Black-Hispanic-White rate disparity continued. In 2001, a Black male had a 32.2% (1 in 3) lifetime chance of going to prison, while a Black female had a 5.6% (1 in 19) lifetime chance of incarceration. Moreover, from 1974 to 2001, the lifetime chance for a Black female going to prison increased more rapidly than the lifetime imprisonment chance for White males.

This report is titled Prevalence of Imprisonment in the U.S. Population, 1974-2001 and is report number NCJ 197976, published August 2003. It is available by writing NCJRS, Post Office Box 6000, Rockville, Maryland 20849-6000, or download it from g

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login