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Comparing Federal and State Prison Inmates, 1991

Comparing Federal and State Prisoners

ADVANCE FOR RELEASE AT 5 P.M. EST                           
BJS  SUNDAY, OCTOBER 2, 1994                            


     WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Most federal prisoners are drug
offenders, but almost half of state prisoners are serving
time for violent crimes.  Offenders in federal prisons are
almost three times as likely as state prisoners to be
incarcerated for a drug offense, according to a Department
of Justice study released today.  

     About 58 percent of federal prisoners are being held
for drug law violations--more than 42 percent for drug
trafficking and about 15 percent for other types of drug
crimes.  Among state inmates, approximately 21 percent are
confined for drug offenses--about 13 percent for drug
trafficking and 8 percent for other drug offenses.  

     The data are from interviews with representative
samples of 13,986 state prisoners and 6,572 sentenced
federal prisoners.  The Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics and
the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) conducted the comprehensive study to
provide the first comparisons of inmate backgrounds and other
characteristics for the two populations.  

     At the time the study was conducted in the summer of
1991, there were about 54,000 sentenced offenders in federal
prisons and 704,000 sentenced state prisoners.  Not included
were federal detainees awaiting trial, deportation or other

     Federal, but not state, inmates serving time for drug
trafficking offenses reported the quantity of drugs involved
in their cases.  The average quantity was:
     --Heroin traffickers, 6 pounds.
     --Crack traffickers, 2 pounds.
     --Cocaine traffickers, 183 pounds.
     --Marijuana traffickers, 3. tons.

     Drug dealing of this magnitude translates into very
large sums of money, the report said, and illustrates that
the seriousness of federal offenses differs in character
from the serious violence that is more typical of state

     Twenty-seven percent of federal inmates and 61 percent
of state inmates had a current or past sentence for a
violent crime.  Federal inmates (43 percent) were twice as
likely as state inmates (19 percent) to have never been on
probation or incarcerated before their current offense.

     About 12 percent of the federal prisoners and 16
percent of the state prisoners were armed when they
committed the offense for which they were serving time. 
Among violent offenders, 38 percent in federal prisons and
29 percent in state prisons carried a firearm when they
committed the offense.  About 10 percent of the violent
federal offenders and 16 percent of the violent state
offenders fired a gun when they committed the crime.

     Among sentenced federal prisoners surveyed, 66 percent
of the women and 57 percent of the men were serving time on
drug charges.  In comparison, 33 percent of the women and 21
percent of the men in state prisons had been convicted on
drug charges.  Women comprised 8 percent of federal inmates
and 5 percent of state prisoners.  The percentages of state
and federal sentences by gender were:

                Federal            State
               Men  Women          Men       Women          
Violent crime  18%    8%           47%        32%
Property       10     17            25        29
Drugs          57     66            21        33
Public order   13      9             7         6

     Federal inmates in general were older, better educated
and from a more stable family background than were state

Inmates                       Federal         State
Age 45 or older                 22%            10%
Married                         38             18
With some college education     28             12
Employed before arrest          74             67
Raised in two-parent home       58             43
Lived in foster home             8             17
Parents abused alcohol/drugs    16             27
A relative had served time      26             38
About 22 percent of the women in federal prisons and 43
percent of the women in state prisons told interviewers
that they had been physically or sexually abused at
some time before their imprisonment.  Among violent
offenders the rates were even higher--44 percent of
women in federal prisons and 56 percent of women in
state prisons.  

     Among federal prisoners, 38 percent were white
non-Hispanic, 30  percent black non-Hispanic, 28
percent Hispanic and 4 percent other (Asians, Pacific
Islanders and Native Americans).  In state prisons 35
percent of the inmates were white non-Hispanic, 46
percent black non-Hispanic, 17 percent Hispanic and 2
percent other.

     About 18 percent of the sentenced federal
prisoners were not U.S. citizens, compared to 4 percent
of the state prisoners.

     Hispanic inmates and those who were non-citizens
were more likely to be serving a sentence for drug
crimes than were non-Hispanics and citizens.  More than
80 percent of the Hispanics in federal prisons and 33
percent of Hispanics in state prisons had been
convicted of drug crimes.  Among non-citizens, 85
percent of the federal inmates and 45 percent of the
state inmates had been convicted of drug crimes.

     Forty-two percent of the federal prisoners and 62
percent of the state prisoners reported having used
drugs regularly at some time during their lives. 
Federal inmates were half as likely as state inmates
(24 percent vs. 49 percent) to have been under the 
influence of drugs or alcohol when they committed the
offense for which they were incarcerated.  Eleven
percent of the federal prisoners and 32 percent of the
state prisoners said they were under the influence of
alcohol at the time of their offense.

     Inmates sentenced for a drug offense have
accounted for increasing percentages of the state and
federal prison populations.  Drug offenders were 38
percent of federal prisoners and 9 percent of state
prisoners in 1986, compared to 58 percent and 21
percent in mid-1991.  Bureau of Prisons data for 1994
indicate drug offenders are about 62 percent of all
sentenced federal inmates.

     The report released by the Department of Justice
today was written by Caroline Wolf Harlow, a
statistician in the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which
is a component of the Office of Justice Programs.  

Single copies of the study, "Comparing Federal and
State Prison Inmates, 1991" (NCJ-145864) as well as
other BJS statistical reports, may be obtained from the
BJS Clearinghouse, Box 179, Annapolis Junction,
Maryland 20701-0179.  The telephone number is 1-800-
732-3277.  Fax orders to 410-792-4358.  To receive a
fax copy of the complete 30-page report call

Owning Topic : T=BJS Press Releases - 93 E= 379 Type = e

Date Published: October 2, 1994