U.S. Prison Population at All-Time High

Report Says One Out of Every 133 U.S. Residents is Locked Up


June 27, 2007 —

The slammer is getting slammed -- with an increase in inmates.

The nation's inmate population is at an all-time high, and has seen its largest year-to-year increase in six years, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report.

The findings, examining the time frame from July 2005 to June 2006, totaled up more than 2.2 million people incarcerated in the nation's federal and state prisons and local jails. That includes an increase of 62,037, or 2.8 percent, compared with numbers available in 2005. In other words, one out of every 133 U.S. residents is behind bars.

Federal prisons and state facilities in California and Texas house two-thirds of all offenders.

Prison admissions have jumped a whopping 17.2 percent since 2000; the report also reveals that prison admission rates have increased faster than release rates.

Part of the increase appears to be related to former inmates or convicts violating parole and being sent back to the slammer. In 2005, 232,000 parole violators were locked up again -- 14 percent more compared with 2000.

And for some prisons, the big house isn't big enough. As of December 2005, many states were more than 10 percent above capacity. Federal prisons were a staggering 34 percent above capacity.

Forty-two states reported increases in their inmate populations during June 2005 to June 2006. Only eight states reported declines or no change.

The inmate explosion has caused some states to consider desperate measures to cope with overpopulation. Some states send inmates to privately held facilities, a practice that saw a nearly 13 percent increase in inmates, to almost 85,000.

Earlier this year, Arizona moved more than 600 inmates to Indiana.

In that case, however, the transfer didn't go smoothly. An April 24 riot at the New Castle, Ind., Correctional Facility highlighted some potential problems of transferring prisoners.

A report issued after the incident ultimately blamed the prisoners for not following staff orders, but there were underlying issues resulting from the Arizona inmates' move.

Secondary causes included a lack of adjustment time for those inmates who were rapidly transported to the "more austere" conditions of the Indiana facility. Additionally, inexperienced officers and a breakdown of communication between the staff and the offenders are said to have played a role.

After the incident, 50 Arizona inmates "suspected to have been involved in the disturbance" were sent to a different Indiana prison, and police have recommended that 26 inmates -- all but one from Arizona -- face charges for their roles in the riot.

The numbers also have dramatic implications for minorities.

Black men accounted for 37 percent of all inmates held in the nation's prison and jails as of June 2006, the study reported.

The report says more than 11 percent of black men between the ages of 25 and 29 are behind bars, and that, considering all ages, approximately 4.8 percent of all black males in the general U.S. population were in prison or jail, contrasted with 1.9 percent of Hispanic males and 0.7 percent of white males.

The trends also held true for black women, who are incarcerated at four times the rate of white women and more than double the rate of female Hispanics.

Additionally, the number of female inmates rose at a faster rate than male inmates -- an increase of 4.8 percent, to a total of more than 111,000.