The number of prisoners under the jurisdiction of federal or state correctional authorities at the end of 1993 reached a record high of 948,881. The states and the District of Columbia added 55,898 prisoners; the federal system, 9,327. The increase for 1993 brings total growth in the prison population since 1980 to 619,060, an increase of about 188 per cent in the 13-year period (Table 1).
The 1993 growth rate of 7.4 per cent was slightly greater than the percentage increase recorded during 1992 (7.0%), and the number of new prisoners added during 1993 was 7,188 more than the number added during the preceding year (58,037). The 1993 increase translates into a nationwide need for approximately 1,254 prison bedspaces per week, compared to the nearly 1,116 prison bedspaces per week needed in 1992.
Prisoners with sentences of more than one year (referred to as “sentenced prisoners”) accounted for 96 per cent of the total prison population at the end of 1993, growing by 7.5 per cent during the year. The remaining prisoners had sentences of a year or less or were unsentenced (for example, those awaiting trial in states with combined prison-jail systems).
The number of sentenced federal prisoners increased more than that of sentenced state prisoners during 1993 (13.2% versus 7.0%). The rate of increase slowed somewhat from the year before. In 1992 the federal system had increased 15.9 per cent and the state population had grown 6.6 per cent.
Prison populations decreased in eight states and the District of Columbia through the end of 1993. This decrease amounted to a combined total of 716 inmates. Six of the eight states had decreases of at least one per cent—Kansas, Nebraska, Maine, Montana, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
During 1993 five states and the federal system reported increases of at least ten per cent. Connecticut experienced the greatest increase (20.1%), followed by Texas (16.2%), Minnesota (15.5%), Mississippi (15.2%), the federal system (11.6%), and Oklahoma (10.7%). Alaska’s system increased by 7.1 per cent in 1993, less than the percentage increase for the nation as a whole.
During 1993, the nation’s prison population increased by 65,225 prisoners. Increases in prison populations in California (10,455), Texas (9,925), the federal system (9,327), and Florida (4,746) accounted for over half of the total increase (52.8%). These jurisdictions incarcerate just over a third of the nation’s prison population.
Rates of Incarceration Increase
On December 31, 1993, the number of sentenced prisoners per 100,000 residents was 351, a new record. Eleven of the 17 states with rates equal to or greater than the rate for the nation were located in the south, three were in the west, two were in the midwest, and one was in the northeast. Alaska’s rate of 323 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 residents was below the national average.
Since 1980 the number of sentenced inmates per 100,000 residents has risen from 139 to 351. During this period, per capita incarceration rates rose the most in the west (from 105 to 317) and the south (from 188 to 381). The rate in the northeast rose from 87 to 272 and the rate in the midwest from 109 to 283. The number of sentenced federal prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents increased from 9 to 29 over the same period.
Rise in Population Linked to Changes in Prison Admissions
Underlying the dramatic growth in the state prison population during the 1980s were changes in the composition of prison admissions. Since 1977 the relative sizes of the two principal sources of admissions to prison, court commitments and returned conditional release violators, have changed. Court commitments account for a decreasing share of all prison admissions: 69.5 per cent in 1992, down from 82.4 per cent in 1980. As a percentage of all admissions, those returning to prison after a conditional release increased, from 17.0 per cent to 29.5 per cent. These conditional release violators had originally left prison as parolees, mandatory releases, and other types of releases involving community supervision.
The absolute number of conditional release violators returned to prison grew five-fold, from 27,177 in 1980 to 141,961 in 1992, while the number of new court commitments more than doubled, from 131,215 to 334,301. Overall, the increase in the number of conditional release violators accounted for more than a third of the growth in the total admissions to state prisons.
An Increasing Percentage of Court Commitments Sentenced for Drug Offenses
In 1992, the latest year for which data are available, the number of new court commitments for drug offenses totaled an estimated 102,000. The number of persons admitted for drug offenses was nearly as large as the number admitted for property offenses (104,300) and larger than the number for violent offenses (95,300) and public order offenses (29,400). An estimated 30.5 per cent of all new court commitments in 1992 were drug offenders, up from 6.8 per cent in 1980. In 1992 an estimated 31.2 per cent were property offenders; 28.5 per cent, violent offenders; and 8.8 per cent, public order offenders. The increase in drug offenders admitted to prison accounted for nearly 46 per cent of the total growth in new court commitments since 1980.
Growth in the number of persons arrested for drug law violations and an increase in the rate of incarceration for drug offenses account for the change in the prison offense distribution. Between 1980 and 1992 the estimated number of adult arrests for drug law violations increased by 108 per cent, from 471,200 to 980,700. Compounding the impact of more drug arrests, the rate of drug offenders sent to state prison rose from 19 per 1,000 arrests for drug violations in 1980 to 104 admissions per 1,000 in 1992.
This article was based on the Bureau of Justice Statistics report “Prisoners in 1993,” NCJ-147036. Copies of the entire report can be obtained through the Alaska Justice Statistical Analysis Unit, Justice Center.