U.S. Prison and Jail Population Increases in 2002
Published on Sunday, July 27, 2003 by Reuters
Going Backwards
U.S. Prison and Jail Population Increases in 2002
by James Vicini
 

WASHINGTON - The U.S. prison and jail population increased to 2,033,331 people at the end of last year, holding one out of every 143 residents, according to a Justice Department report released on Sunday.


The prison population and budget figures -- taken together -- should be setting off alarm bells in state capitols. As legislators are struggling to fund education, health care and stave off spending cuts, many are continuing to choose to pay for an expensive justice system that damages communities and does not produce safe, healthy neighborhoods.

Jason Ziedenberg
Justice Policy Institute
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported a 3.7 percent increase last year. The 2.6 percent rise in the prison population alone represented the largest jump in three years, equal to 700 inmates added every week during the year.

Federal and state prisons generally hold people who have been convicted of felony crimes while local jails generally hold people awaiting trial or serving sentences for lesser misdemeanor offenses.

The Justice Policy Institute, which promotes alternatives to prison, said the nation's use of incarceration is rising again at a time when states can least afford it because of budget shortfalls.

"The prison population and budget figures -- taken together -- should be setting off alarm bells in state capitols," Jason Ziedenberg, the institute's director of policy and research, said.

"As legislators are struggling to fund education, health care and stave off spending cuts, many are continuing to choose to pay for an expensive justice system that damages communities and does not produce safe, healthy neighborhoods," he said in a statement on the government's latest prisoner survey.

The report found that black males from 20 to 39 years old accounted for about a third of all sentenced prison inmates under state or federal jurisdiction at the end of December.

It said more than 10 percent of the country's black male population between the ages of 25 to 29 were in prison, compared to 2.4 percent of Hispanic males and 1.2 percent of white males in the same age group.

Among the report's other findings:

  • There were 97,491 women in federal or state prison at the end of last year, accounting for nearly 7 percent of all prison inmates. Since 1995, the number of female prisoners has grown 42 percent while the number of male prisoners has increased 27 percent.
  • Seventeen states reported increases of at least 5 percent in their prison populations during 2002 while nine states had decreases.
  • About half of all state prisoners were serving time for violent crimes.
  • Growth in the federal prison system since 1995 mainly reflected more incarcerated drug offenders, accounting for nearly half of the total increase, and immigration offenders, accounting for more than 20 percent of the rise.

Copyright 2003 Reuters Ltd

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