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Prison Population Still Rising in Mid-Year 2003

by Robert H. Woodman

In May, 2004, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported that as of June 30, 2003, the total State prison and jail population rose 2.6% from the same date in the previous year, while the Federal prison population rose 5.4% during the same period. The total number of prisoners in both State and Federal jurisdictions (including those held in jails) rose by 40,983 persons, the largest increase in the prisoner population since 1999. PLN has previously reported on BJS surveys of prisoner populations (for example, PLN, May 2003, page 33).

The United States now incarcerates 715 people per 100,000 residents in Federal and State prisons and in jails. This is up from 703 per 100,000 in June 2002, and 672 per 100,000 in 1999. Stated another way, on June 30, 2003, about one in every 140 U.S. residents was in prison or in jail. The figure is higher if only adults are included.

Since December 1995, the overall prisoner population has experienced a 3.7% annual growth rate, with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) population growing at 8.0% annually, all States combined growing at 2.9% annually, and local jail populations growing at 4.0% annually. Moreover, the BOP population of 159,275 prisoners on June 30, 2003, represented about 8.3% of America's total prisoner population. By contrast, all States combined held 1,221,501 prisoners, while local jails at midyear 2003 held 691,301 prisoners. The five states experiencing the largest percentage growth in population from June 30, 2002, to June 30, 2003, were Vermont (up 12.2%), Minnesota (9.4%), Maine (9.1%), Mississippi (6.5%), and Arizona (5.6%). However, nine states lost population during this period Rhode Island (-3.4%), Arkansas (-2.2%), Montana (-2.1%), New York (-1.8%), Delaware (-1.1%), Massachusetts (-1.0%), Michigan (-0.9%), Maryland (-0.6%), and Louisiana (-0.2%).

The BOP is the largest single prison system in the U.S. as of the report date, with 170,461 prisoners. It was followed in population by Texas (164,222), California (163,361), Florida (80,352), and New York (65,914). North Dakota had the smallest prison system in the country with only 1,168 prisoners.

By incarceration rates per 100,000 residents, the five largest systems were Louisiana (803 prisoners per 100,000 residents), Texas (692), Mississippi (688), Oklahoma (645), and Alabama (612). Maine had the lowest incarceration rate at 148 prisoners per 100,000 residents, or 2,009 prisoners, the fourth smallest prisoner population in the nation. By gender, the U.S. incarcerates 119 women per 100,000 female residents and 1,331 men per 100,000 male residents. Men are fifteen times more likely to be incarcerated in a State or Federal prison than women.

At report time, States held 3,006 prisoners who were under age 18 years (2,880 males and 126 females). Moreover, adult jails held 6,869 prisoners less than 18 years old. Furthermore, 12% of black males, 3.7% of Hispanic males, and 1.6% of white males in their twenties were in prison or jail. In addition, the rate of incarceration of blacks and Hispanics in all age groups far outpaces the incarceration rate of whites in those same age groups.

State and Federal authorities held 90,700 non-citizens on June 30, 2003, up 2.3% from 88,677 the prior year. Over half these prisoners were held by the BOP. Non-citizen prisoners represented more than 20% of the Federal prison population. Also, non-citizen prisoners accounted for more than 10% of the prison populations of California, New York, Arizona, and Nevada. California (18,559 prisoners), Texas (8,702), New York (8,370), Florida (4,739), and Arizona (3,670) held nearly 80% of all non-citizen prisoners confined in State prisons at midyear 2003.

The report is titled Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2003, by Paige M. Harrison and Jennifer C. Karberg. It is report number NCJ 203947, published May 2004. The report can be obtained by writing to NCJRS, Post Office Box 6000, Rockville, Maryland 20849-6000, or it can be downloaded from the BJS website at

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