Growth in State Prison Population Slows - Federal Numbers Increase

The nation's prison population increased by 1,122 inmates a week last year, a growth rate that has slowed significantly even as the total number of men and women behind bars reached 1.86 million, the Justice Department announced yesterday.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics said the state prison population grew 3.1 percent from 1998 to 1999, about half the average of the 1990s. The smaller federal inmate pool jumped 9.9 percent to 117,995, the largest 12-month gain ever.

The increase in federal prisoners can be traced to rising numbers of drug offenders and immigration violators, as well as longer sentences, said Justice Department statistician Allen J. Beck. He said the typical drug sentence grew from 26 months in 1990 to 42 months in 1997.

Beck predicts the adult population of state and federal prisons and local jails will be more than 2 million in 2001. The current number would be close to 2 million, Beck added, if it included an estimated 100,000 juveniles in adult facilities, 2,400 military prisoners, 1,600 Indian reservation inmates and 3,000 to 4,000 people in immigration and Naturalization Service facilities.

One in every nine African American men in their twenties and early thirties was behind bars on June 30, 1999, the Justice Department reported, compared with one in 25 Hispanic men and one in 65 Anglo men. Among the 1,860,520 inmates, more than 560,000 were black men age 20 to 39.

Despite a building boom, federal prisons were 27 percent over capacity at the end of 1998.