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U.S. Prison Population Hits Nearly 2.3 Million In 2004

The U.S. reached a new milestone in 2004: the imprisonment of nearly 2.3 million citizens, according to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released in October 2005.

On December 31, 2004, 2,267,787 men, women, and children were held in the nations prisons and jails. The number represents an increase of 54,321, or 2.6% over the previous year--slightly less than the average annual growth of 3.4% since 1995. Prisons held 1,421,911 prisoners, while another 713,990 were in jail. Territorial, military, immigration, Indian, and juvenile prisons held the rest.

Increases were seen across the board, according to the report. State prison populations grew by 1.6%, or 20,759 new prisoners during 2004, while the federal system grew 4.2% (7,269). Private prisons grew by 3.3%, from 95,707 prisoners at yearend 2003 to 98,901 at yearend 2004.

Ten states increased their prison populations by at least 10% during 2004. Minnesota led with an 11.4% increase, followed by Idaho (11.1%), and Georgia (8.3%). Modest decreases were seen in 11 states, including Alabama (-7.3%), Rhode Island (-2.8%), and New York (-2.2%).

Overall, state prisons were packed, operating at between 1% below capacity and 15% above. Alabama was the most egregious example, operating at 205% of design capacity, followed by California (203%), and Illinois (161%). Federal prisons were running at 140% of capacity.

Not surprisingly, 6.6% of state and federal prisoners were held in private, for profit prisons. Six states had at least one-fourth of their prison population in private prisons: New Mexico (42%), Alaska (31%), Montana (30%), Wyoming and Hawaii (both 28%), and Oklahoma (25%). In absolute numbers, the federal system had the most prisoners in rented beds (24,768), followed by Texas (16,668), and Oklahoma (5,905).

Another 5% of state and federal prisoners were held in local jails. Louisiana, the worst example, warehoused 47% of its state prison population in local jails, the report noted.

At yearend 2004, federal prisons housed 180,328 prisoners. The majority were imprisoned for drugs (55%) or weapons charges (10%).

Also at yearend 2004, 104,848 women, were in prison. The number represents an increase of 4.0% over the previous year--more than double the 1.8% increase among men. However, the percentage of imprisoned women has remained fairly constant to that of men.

Sixty percent of state and federal prisoners were black or Hispanic at yearend 2004. In fact, blacks represented an estimated 41% of all prisoners sentenced to 1 year or more, while white prisoners accounted for 34% and Hispanic prisoners 19%. About 1 in 12 black males between ages 25 and 29 were in prison, compared to 1 in 40 Hispanics and 1 in 83 whites.

Its worth noting that prison systems self-report much of the statistical data. Thus, numbers relating to such things as overcrowding and leased bed space may be skewed to promote their own agendas. Likewise, racial minorities may be under reported as some systems do not have a separate racial category for Hispanic prisoners and count them as white.

Get a free copy of the report, Prisoners In 2004, NCJ 210677, on the Web at or by writing NCJRS, P.O. Box 6000, Rockville, Maryland 20849-6000.

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