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Growth in U.S. Incarceration Rate Slowed in 1995-1996 for the First Time in a Decade, According to Justice Department


February 1997

The growth in the incarceration rate in the nation's federal and state prisons and local jails slowed for the first time in the last decade, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced on January 19 (Darrell K. Gilliard and Allen J. Beck, "Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 1996" (NCJ-162843), U.S Department of Justice, Office of Justice Statistics, January 1997; Fox Butterfield, "Slower Growth in the Number of Inmates," New York Times, January 20, 1997, p. A10; Associated Press, "U.S. Incarceration Growth Has Slowed," Washington Post, January 20, 1997, p. A16).

The incarceration rate almost doubled during the last ten years and tripled over the last 20 years. In 1985, the national incarceration rate was 313 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents. By June 30, 1996, this had increased to 615 inmates per 100,000 residents. The incarcerated population grew from 744,208 in 1985 to 1,630,940 by the end of June 1996, an average growth of 7.8 percent a year and an increase of 4.4% over the previous year. As of last June 30 there were 93,167 federal prisoners, 1,019,281 state prisoners and 518,492 jail inmates.

Thirty-nine percent of the prison population growth during the 12 months ending June 30, 1996 was accounted for by California (10,954), the federal system (4,256), Pennsylvania (4,095) and North Carolina (3,853). During this period the prison population increased by at least 10% in 13 states, led by Nebraska (16%), Montana (15.2%), North Carolina (14.4%), Oregon (14.1%), Wisconsin (13.9%) and Pennsylvania (13.7%). New Hampshire, Connecticut and the District of Columbia had declines in their prison populations.

Drug convictions accounted for the largest increase in incarceration. Alfred Blumstein, a professor of criminology at Carnegie-Mellon University estimated that drug offenders made up about half of the growth in the prison population during the last decade. Although national crime statistics have shown a decreasing crime rate since 1992, the FBI crime index does include the sale and possession of drugs.

This report can be obtained from the BJS fax-on-demand system (301) 251-5550 or by calling the BJS Clearinghouse on (800) 732-3277. The report is located at: