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Prevalence of Imprisonment in the U.S. Population, 1974-2001

ADVANCE FOR RELEASE AT 4:30 P.M. EDT Bureau of Justice Statistics
THURSDAY, AUGUST 17, 2003 Contact: Stu Smith


WASHINGTON, D.C.- More than 5.6 million adult U.S. residents were serving time or had previously served time in a state or federal prison as of the end of 2001, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. The extent of prison experience, as estimated for the first time, shows that 1 in 37 adults living in the U.S. on December 31, 2001 had been confined in prison at some time during his or her life. At the end of 2001, there were 1,319,000 adults in prison and an estimated 4,299,000 adults who were former prisoners.

Almost a third of former prisoners were still under correctional supervision, including 731,000 on parole, 437,000 on probation and 166,000 in local jails.

Between 1974 and 2001 the number of current or former inmates increased by 3.8 million men and women. This included an additional 1.1 million adults in prison (up from 216,000 inmates in 1974) and almost 2.7 million more former inmates (up from 1,603,000 former prisoners in 1974). Almost two-thirds of the increase in the number of those who had ever been incarcerated resulted from an increase in first incarceration rates. One-third of the increase was attributed to growth in the U.S. resident population and increases in life expectancy.

At the end of 2001, about 16.6 percent of adult black males were current or former inmates, compared to 7.7 percent of Hispanic males and 2.6 percent of white males. Among black males 35 to 44 years of age, 22 percent were current or former prisoners, compared to 10 percent of Hispanic males and 3.5 percent of white males in the same age group.

Prevalence rates at the end of 2001 were lower among females, with 1.7 percent of black females, 0.7 percent of Hispanic females and 0.3 percent of white females having ever been incarcerated.

In the future, if 2001 first-incarceration rates remain unchanged, 6.6 percent of U.S. residents are projected to be confined in a state or federal prison during the course of an entire lifetime, up from 5.2 percent since estimates were produced for 1991.

The lifetime chances of going to prison were six times higher for men (11.3 percent) than women (1.8 percent). If the 2001 rates of incarceration were to continue indefinitely, a black male in the United States would have about a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison during his lifetime, while a Hispanic male would have a 1 in 6 chance and a white male would have a 1 in 17 chance of going to prison.

The lifetime chances of going to prison among black females (5.6 percent), making the same assumption (that the 2001rates of imprisonment would continue indefinitely), would be almost as high as for white males (5.9 percent). Hispanic females (2.2 percent) and white females (0.9 percent) would have much lower lifetime chances of imprisonment.

The special report, "Prevalence of Imprisonment in the U.S. Populations, 1974-2001" (NCJ-197976), was written by BJS statistician Thomas P. Bonczar. Single copies may be obtained by calling the BJS Clearinghouse at 1-800-851-3420. In addition, this document can be accessed at:

For additional information about Bureau of Justice Statistics statistical reports programs, please see the BJS website at http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/

BJS media calls should be directed to Stu Smith in OJP's Office of Communications at [email protected]  or 202-307-0784. After hours: 301-983-9354.

The Office of Justice Programs (OJP) provides federal leadership in developing the nation's capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice, and assist crime victims. OJP is headed by an Assistant Attorney General and comprises 5 component bureaus and 2 offices: the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and the Office for Victims of Crime, as well as the Executive Office for Weed and Seed, and the Office of the Police Corps and Law Enforcement Education. Information about OJP programs, publications, and conferences is available on the OJP Web site, www.ojp.usdoj.gov.

Date Published: August 17, 2003