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U.S. Prison Population Tops 2.1 Million

by: Michael Rigby

Even if you're not in prison today, you could be tomorrow. With more than 2.1 million people in prison or jail at midyear 2004--a 2.3% increase over the previous year--the odds of imprisonment were frighteningly good, a recent Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report reveals. The report, "Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2004," was released on April 24, 2005.

In the 12 months preceding midyear 2004, the U.S. prison and jail population increased by 48,452 prisoners, to a grand total of 2,131,180. The number represents an imprisonment rate of 726 prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents--up from 716 at midyear 2003.

Racial disparities continue to plague the nation's prison industry. At midyear 2004, 576,000 black males age 20 to 39--more than a quarter of the entire U.S. prison and jail population--were imprisoned. Even worse, of black males age 25 to 29, more than 1 in 8 (12.6%) were locked up. The numbers were similarly disproportionate for black females of all ages. Most notably, the imprisonment rate for those age 35 to 39 was 993 per 100,000--more than 4 times the rate of white females in the same age group (238 per 100,000).

Between July 1, 2003, and June 30, 2004, the state and federal prison population rose by 30,019 (2.1%), somewhat lower than the previous year's increase of 44,260 (3.1%). Outpacing state growth was the federal system, which grew 3.6% in the first 6 months of 2004--more than double the state rate. In fact, the federal system's addition of 8,749 prisoners accounted for 29% of the growth nationwide.

In the 12 months following July 1, 2004, a number of state systems grew significantly, including Minnesota (12.2%), Montana (10.5%), and Arkansas (8.9%). Contrasting this were the 12 states that showed a decline. Alabama showed the most significant decrease (-6.7%), followed by Connecticut (-2.5%), Ohio (-2.3%), and New York (-2.0%).

At midyear 2004, the rate of imprisonment for state and federal prisons was 486 per 100,000 U.S. residents, up from 482 at yearend 2003 and considerably higher than the yearend 1995 rate of 411. Twelve states exceeded the national average. Louisiana was the front runner with 814 prisoners per 100,000, followed by Texas (704), and Oklahoma (684). Nine states had rates that were less than half the national average. They included Maine (149), Minnesota (169), and North Dakota (189).

The number of prisoners in private, for-profit prisons also increased during the first six months of 2004, from 95,522 to 98,791, or 3.4%. Reporting the largest number of prisoners in private prison were the federal system (24,506), Texas (16,906), Oklahoma (5,675), and Tennessee (5,121). Five states, all in the West, had more than one-fourth of their prison Population in private prisons. Leading was New Mexico (41.8%), Wyoming (29.4%), Arizona (28.9%), Montana (27.9%), and Hawaii (27.3%).

The rate of imprisonment for females has continued to outpace that of men. In the 12 months following June 30, 2003, the number of women in state and federal prisons grew from 100,384 to 103,310, a 2.9% increase. By contrast, the rate for men during the same period was 2.0%. Since 1995, the annual growth rate for females has averaged 5.0%, compared with 3.3% for men. At midyear 2004, women accounted for 6.9% of all prisoners.


In the 12 months following July 1, 2003, the U.S. jail population grew from 691,301 to 713,990, an increase of 3.3%--slightly lower than the previous Year's increase of 3.9%. (An additional 70,548 persons were in "alternative Programs outside the jail facilities," but still under the supervision of jailers.)

Blacks, who were jailed at nearly 5 times the rate of whites, nearly 3 times the rate of Hispanics, and more than 8 times the rate of other races, accounted for a disproportionately large percentage of the nation's jail population at midyear 2004.
Disparities were obvious among other groups as well. According to the report, nearly 6 in 10 persons imprisoned in local jails at midyear 2004 were racial or ethnic minorities.
Among the nation's 50 largest jail jurisdictions--which accounted for 30.9% of all jail prisoners--8 experienced double digit growth between midyear 2003 and midyear 2004. Clark County, Nevada, had the largest increase (20.5%), followed by Fulton County, Georgia (20.2%), Orange County, California (20.1%), Milwaukee County, Wisconsin (16.5%), and Baltimore City, Maryland (15.4%).

In addition, 20 of the 50 largest were overcrowded. Maricopa County, which operated at 176% above its rated capacity, was the most egregious example, followed by Polk County, Florida (138%) Orange County, California (135%), and Fulton County, Georgia (131%).

So, what does all this mean for the gambling man or woman? A not so safe bet. According to the report, at midyear 2004 1 in every 138 U.S. residents were in prison or jail. And with the numbers still rising, the odds are only improving.

A copy of the report, NJC 208801, can be obtained on the Web at www.ojp.usdoj.gove/bjs/ or by writing NCJRS, P.O. Box 6000, Rockville, Maryland 20849-6000. See FIN indexes or visit online for other BJS reports.

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