location: news

April 10, 2003


Drug offenses account for nearly 60% of the federal prison population and more than 20% of the state inmate population. For the first time in history, the number of inmates in American prisons and jails has exceeded 2 million. As of June 30, 2002, there were 1.35 million prisoners in State and Federal prisons and an additional 665, 475 in local jails, according to a new report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. This represents an increase of nearly 2% over the first six months of 2002. The rate of incarceration in the United States, 702 inmates per 100,000 residents, continues to be the highest in the world. Among black males 25 to 29, 12.9% were in prison or jail. Overall, 4.8% of black males were in prison or jails, compared to 1.7% of Hispanics and 0.6% of whites. Black women in prisons and jails continue to outnumber their white (5 times as many) and Hispanic (more than twice as many) counterparts.

The Bureau's report demonstrates state and federal policies continue to drive up incarceration rates despite sharp drops in violent crime rates since 1994 and efforts by many state governors and legislators from both political parties to reduce swollen prison populations and corrections budgets during an economic downturn. "The relentless increases in prison and jail populations can best be explained as the legacy of an entrenched infrastructure of punishment that has been embedded in the criminal justice system over the last 30 years," says Malcolm C. Young, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project.

Despite harsh mandatory minimum laws that send many low-level drug offenders to prison, drug use as evidenced by survey information and emergency room admissions remains flat. The numbers contained in the Bureau's report demonstrate the role of policy over actual crime trends in determining incarceration.

For additional information and analysis, please visit The Sentencing Project's web site.

For information on crime rates, please visit the Bureau of Justice Statistics web site.

Michael Jackson