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U.S. Prison and Jail Population Continues Meteoric Rise

It?s beginning to sound a bit repetitive, but the nation?s prison population continues to grow exponentially. At midyear 2006, U.S. prisons and jails held 2,245,189 persons?a 2.8% increase over the previous year, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report released in June 2007.

Put another way, on June 30, 2006, 1 in every 133 U.S. residents was behind bars. This is one of the highest incarceration rates in the world.
State and federal prisons accounted for 70% of the increase in the imprisoned population. On June 30, 2006, 1,556,518 people were imprisoned in these facilities. That increase of 34,500 prisoners was the largest since midyear 2000.

Local jail populations also continued to grow, but at a slightly lower rate (2.5%) than the prison population. In actual numbers, U.S. jails held 766,010 prisoners on June 30, 2006. Between midyear 2005 and 2006 these jails operated at an average 94% capacity, though they tended to reach 100% capacity on peak days.

The two largest jail jurisdictions were Los Angeles County and New York City, with a combined total of 32,703 jail prisoners on June 30, 2006. At 9.4%, Alaska had the highest percentage increase in its jail population.

Four prison systems accounted for more than half (52%) of the nation?s prison growth. Leading was the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), followed by California, Texas, and Florida.

With regard to relative increases in the prison population, however, the lineup is slightly different. The federal system had the highest percentage increase in its prison population (15%), while Georgia increased its prison population by 9% and Florida by 8%.

The increase in prison population translated into a boon for private prison operators. The number of state prisoners in private facilities increased by 12.9% during the period July 1, 2005 through June 30, 2006, while the number of federal prisoners in for-profit prisons grew by 2.1%.
Still, overall the federal system housed a higher percentage of its prison population in private prisons (14.2%) than state systems (6.2%).

The number of women in prison also increased--and at faster rate than the male population. At midyear 2006, 111,403 women were in prison, an increase of 4.8% over the previous year. During that same period the male prison population grew by 2.7%, for a total of 1,445,115 imprisoned men at midyear 2006.

Racial disparities in the U.S. prison and jail population remain prevalent. At midyear 2006, 4.8% of all black men were in prison or jail. By comparison, 1.9% of Hispanic men were imprisoned and 0.7% of white men. More than 11% of young black men between the ages of 25 and 34 were behind bars. Black women were imprisoned at nearly 4 times the rate of white women, and more than twice the rate of Hispanic women.

In all, nearly 6 out 10 people imprisoned nationwide were black or Hispanic. See: Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2006 (NCJ 217675). The report is available on PLN's website.

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