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  Chapter Twelve:

  Capital Punishment
  Offenses of Prisoners
  Juvenile Offenders



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The inmate population of state and federal prisons increased significantly after 1980.
Before the 1990s, imprisonment rates of more than 400 inmates per 100,000 population had never been approached in the United States or any other developed nation. As the chart shows, the U.S. inmate population more than tripled in the last two decades of the century, reaching 462 per 100,000 population in 1999. 

The ethnic, gender, and age distributions of prison inmates differed greatly from those of the general population. At the end of 1997, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics estimate, 48 percent of state and federal prisoners were white, 49 percent were black, 2 percent were American Indian, and 1 percent were other races. Hispanics, who may be of any race, constituted 18 percent of state and federal prisoners. Women composed about 6 percent of the prisoner population, twice the female share of inmates in the early years of the century. The overwhelming majority of prisoners were between the ages of eighteen and fifty-four, with a concentration around age thirty. 

These inmate characteristics produced enormous variations in the imprisonment rates of subgroups of the population. In 1996, for example, the imprisonment rate among eighteen- to fifty-four-year-olds ranged from 59 per 100,000 white women to 6,286 per 100,000 black men. 

At the end of 1998, 123,041 inmates were in the federal prison system, and 1,178,978 inmates were in state prisons. In addition, almost 600,000 were confined in local jails, where they were awaiting trial, serving short sentences, or waiting for prison space. 

Among the factors contributing to the increase in the inmate population were the enhanced prosecution of drug offenses, longer sentences for common crimes, and reduced access to parole and probation.

Chapter 12 chart 5

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

SA 1959, table 2, and SA 1997, tables 1 and 2. See HCS, table 3.2. See Bureau of Justice Statistics web site at (accessed May 19, 2000). Figures for 1980 and 1990 from SA 1999, table 382. For an overview of prison population trends, see Theodore Caplow and Jonathan Simon, “Understanding Prison Policy and Population Trends,” Crime and Justice 26 (1999):63–120. For the characteristics of prisoners, see Allen J. Beck and Christopher J. Mumola, Prisoners in 1998, Bureau of Justice Statistics, NCJ 175687 (Washington, D.C.: BJS, 1999).


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