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More Drug Offenders Creating Largest-Ever Jail Population


May 1995

A new Bureau of Justice Statistics report finds that the population of the nation's jails has reached its highest level ever and drug offenders make up the largest part of that increase (Craig A. Perkins, James J. Stephan, and Allen J. Beck, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Jail and Jail Inmates, 1993-4; "Drug Offenders Largest Source of Increase in Jail Population," Drug Enforcement Report, May 8, 1995, p. 5).

Jails hold people awaiting trial, people being transported to prison, and people serving short sentences. Prisons hold people convicted of crimes and serving longer sentences.

The nation's local jails held 490,442 men and women on June 30, 1994, when the survey was conducted. In the year before that date, total jail population grew 6.7 percent.

Per capita, the 16-page report found that the jail population has almost doubled -- up from 96 per 100,000 people in 1983 to 188 per 100,000 people in 1994.

Rising numbers of drug offenders in local jails was the largest single factor for the population increase. The number of drug offenders in jails rose from 20,800 in 1983 to 91,000 in 1989. Although the report does not have data on jail population and offenses for more recent years, the authors estimate that at the rate of population increase in 1989, more than 105,800 people would have been in local jails on drug charges in 1993.

Counties and municipalities operate the nation's local jails, housing about one-third of all people incarcerated in the United States. The authors used two sources of Bureau of Justice Statistics information for the jail population study: the annual Survey of Jails and the Census of Jails, which is conducted every five years.

[To obtain a copy of this report, contact the BJS Clearinghouse, Box 179, Annapolis Junction MD, 20701-0179, 1-800-732-3277.]