U.S. Prison Population Sets Record
Friday, December 1, 2006; A03
A record 7 million people -- one in every 32 U.S. adults -- were behind bars, on probation or on parole by the end of last year, a Justice Department report released yesterday shows.
Of those, 2.2 million were in prison or jail, an increase of 2.7 percent over the previous year, according to the report.
More than 4.1 million people were on probation and 784,208 were on parole at the end of 2005. Prison releases are increasing, but admissions are increasing more.
Men still far outnumber women in prisons and jails, but the female population is growing faster. Over the past year, the female population in state or federal prison increased 2.6 percent and the number of male inmates rose 1.9 percent. By year's end, 7 percent of inmates were women. The gender figures do not include inmates in local jails.
"Misguided policies that create harsher sentences for nonviolent drug offenses are disproportionately responsible for the increasing rates of women in prisons and jails," Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based group that supports criminal justice reform, said in a statement.
From 1995 to 2003, inmates incarcerated in federal prisons for drug offenses have accounted for 49 percent of total prison population growth.
The statistics are from the annual report by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics. The report breaks down inmate populations for state and federal prisons and for local jails.
The study found that racial disparities among prisoners persist. In the 25-29 age group, 8.1 percent of black men -- about one in 13 -- are incarcerated, compared with 2.6 percent of Hispanic men and 1.1 percent of white men. The figures are not much different among women. By the end of 2005, black women were more than twice as likely as Hispanics and more than three times as likely as white women to be in prison.
There were significant changes in some states' prison populations. In South Dakota, the number of inmates increased 11 percent over the past year, more than in any other state. Montana and Kentucky were next, with increases of 10.4 and 7.9 percent, respectively. Georgia had the biggest decrease, losing 4.6 percent of its prison population, followed by Maryland (2.4 percent decrease) and Louisiana (2.3 percent).