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Survey of State Prison Inmates, 1991

Survey of Inmate Characteristics

 
ADVANCE FOR RELEASE AT 5 P.M. EDT
WEDNESDAY, MAY 19, 1990                         BJS                           

202-307-0784
 
     An estimated 16 percent of prison inmates were armed with
a gun when they committed the offense for which they were
serving time, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced
today.  About half of the armed inmates (or about 8 percent of
all prisoners) said they had fired their guns during the
crime, and an estimated 23 percent of all state prisoners had
committed at least one current or past crime while armed.

     BJS, a Department of Justice agency, said the findings
came from in-depth interviews in 1991 with a nationally
representative sample of almost 14,000 state prisoners in 277
facilities in 45 states.  There were 711,000 state inmates at
the time.

     "This is the most comprehensive survey ever conducted to
gather information on inmate characteristics," commented
Acting BJS Director Lawrence A. Greenfeld. "This latest study
of prisoner backgrounds--the fourth since 1984--provides new
data about family status, recidivism, gang membership, drug
and alcohol use, weapons acquisition and violent crime
victims"  Other survey findings include:
 
                  Inmate Characteristics
 
     The state prison population, which increased 58 percent
between 1986 and 1991, changed minimally in general
characteristics:

     --Sixty-five percent of the inmates belonged to racial or
ethnic minority groups in 1991, up from 60 percent in 1986.

     --Twenty-two percent of the inmates were younger than 25
years old, down from 28 percent in 1986, and a higher
percentage were between 35 and 54 years old--30 percent in
1991, compared to 24 percent five years earlier.

     --About 34 percent of the 1991 inmates had completed high
school, compared to 29 percent in 1986.  In 1991 about 19
percent of the inmates had an eighth grade education or less.

     --About one-fifth were married, but more than half had
never married.  Two-thirds of all inmates were employed during
the month before they were arrested for their current offense.
More than half of all inmates had been employed full time.

     An estimated 38 percent of the women and 13 percent of
the men had been receiving Social Security benefits, welfare
or charity before they were sent to prison.

     About one in every 25 state prisoners in 1991 was not a
U.S. citizen.  Half of the non-citizens were Mexican.
Forty-five percent of the non-citizens had been convicted of
drug crimes.
 
                   Types of Offenses
 
     Among the 1991 inmates just under half had been sentenced
for a violent crime, a quarter for a property crime and about
a fifth for a drug crime.

     The percentage of surveyed inmates in state prisons
sentenced for various crimes in 1986 and 1991 were as follow:
 
                                         1991       1986
 
         Violent offenses ............... 47%        55%
              Murder..................... 11         11
 
              Negl. manslaughter.........  2          3
              Kidnapping.................  1          2
              Rape.......................  4          4
              Other sexual assault.......  6          4
              Robbery.................... 15         21
              Assault....................  8          8
              Other violent crimes.......  1          1
 
          Property offenses.............. 25%        31%
              Burglary................... 12         16
 
              Larceny and theft..........  5          6
              Motor vehicle theft........  2          1
              Arson......................  1          1
              Fraud......................  3          4
              Stolen property............  1          2
              Other property crimes......  *          1
 
          Drug offenses.................. 21%         9%
              Possession.................  8          3
              Trafficking................ 13          5
              Other or unspecified.......  *          *
 
          Public-order offenses..........  7%         5%
              Weapons....................  2          1
              Other public order.........  5          4
 
          Other offenses.................  *          1%
.............................................................
* Less than 1 percent
 
     Almost 75,000 inmates were serving a murder sentence
during 1991, of whom 44 percent had been sentenced to a term
of years, averaging 32 years; 41 percent had received a life
sentence; 11 percent had received a life sentence with
additional years added and 3 percent had been sentenced to
death.
 
               Weapons Possession and Use
 
     Forty-six percent of the inmates who had committed
violent crimes had carried or used a weapon when they
committed the crime.  The percentages were:
 
         Handgun............................... 24%
         Knife................................. 11
         Rifle or shotgun......................  5
         Other weapon, such as club or bottle..  5
         Military-type weapon..................  1
 
         No weapon............................. 54
 
     The use of weapons was strongly associated with age; 52
percent of the offenders who were 24 years old or younger at
the time of the crime carried or used them, compared to 33
percent who were 45 years old or older.  Such use did not vary
significantly between the sexes or among racial or ethnic
groups.  Forty-six percent of both male and female violent
offenders were armed at the time of the offense, as were 43
percent of white, 47 percent of black and 48 percent of
Hispanic violent offenders.

     More than a third of the inmates who had committed a
murder, robbery or an assault carried a firearm.  Handguns
were the most commonly owned and used firearm.

     All prisoners were asked if they had ever possessed a
handgun.  Of those who said yes, the most recently acquired
handgun was obtained from the following sources:
 
         Family or friends..................... 31%
         Black market or fenced................ 28
         Retail outlet......................... 27
         Theft.................................  9
         Other.................................  5
 
                  Victims of Violent Inmates
 
     Violent inmates were most likely to have victimized a
person who was a male, an adult and of the same race as the
offender.  Eighty-nine percent of the white inmates and 53
percent of the black inmates who had committed a violent crime
had attacked someone of their own race.

     --Twenty-three percent of the violent inmates had
victimized more than one person.  One in five had attacked a
minor.  Thirty-two percent had victimized a relative, intimate
or person whom they had known well.  Women (36 percent) were
more likely than men (16 percent) to have victimized a
relative or an intimate.

     --Two-thirds of the violent inmates had killed, raped or
otherwise injured their
victims.

     --Forty-four percent of the inmates convicted of rape or
sexual assault committed the crime in the victim's home--32
percent in the offender's home.

     --Thirty-four percent of the inmates convicted of murder
killed their victims in the victim's home--29 percent in a
public place.

     Inmates 45 years old or older at the time of the offense
were about three times as likely as those younger than 25 to
have sexually assaulted their victims.
 
                  Family Characteristics
 
     More than half of all inmates did not live with both
parents while growing up, about a quarter had parents who
abused drugs or alcohol and a little less than a third had a
brother with a jail or prison record.  Thirty-seven percent of
the inmates had at least one family member who had been
incarcerated.

     Fifty-three percent of the black inmates grew up in
single-parent homes, compared to 33 percent of white inmates and 40 
percent of Hispanic inmates.  About 14 percent of all inmates lived in
homes with no parent.  About 17 percent had lived in a foster
home or agency or other institution at one time or another.

    The 1991 inmates were parents to more than 826,000
children under 19 years old. Forty-two percent of the women
and 32 percent of the men had two or more children under 18.
Six percent of the women inmates entered prison while
pregnant.
 
                  Recidivism
 
     A large majority of the offenders in state prisons had
serious or lengthy criminal records.  Ninety-four percent of
the state inmates had been convicted of a violent crime or had
received a previous sentence to probation or incarceration.
More than 60 percent had been incarcerated in the past and
almost all of those with prior confinements had been in prison
or jail for an offense within five years of their current
offense.

     About 38 percent of all inmates had never been
incarcerated before.  Nineteen percent were sentenced for the
first time, and the other 19 percent had received only past
probation sentences.

     Of those inmates serving their first sentence, 65 percent
had been convicted of violent crimes, 10 percent of property
crime and 22 percent of drug offenses.

     Six percent of all state prisoners were non-violent
offenders with no prior sentence to incarceration or
probation.  Of this group, 42 percent were in prison for drug
trafficking, 19 percent for drug possession and 12 percent for
burglary.
 
                  Drug and Alcohol Use
 
     While about 80 percent of state prisoners reported they
had used illegal drugs at least once, half said they had been
using drugs in the month before their current offense, and 31
percent said they had been under the influence of drugs at the
time of their current offense.

     Compared to 1986, state prisoners in 1991 reported an
increased use of cocaine and a decreased use of all other
drugs.  Half of all 1991 inmates had used cocaine or crack at
some time in the past, and about one-quarter said they had
used cocaine or crack in the month before the offense for
which they had been imprisoned.

     In 1986 about 10 percent of state prisoners said they had
been under the influence of cocaine or crack at the time of
the offense.  In 1991 about 14 percent were under the
influence of these drugs.

     Female inmates were more likely than male inmates--and
black inmates more likely than whites--to have said they had
used crack.

     About 14 percent of both black and white prisoners and 21
percent of Hispanic inmates reported using cocaine powder
during the month before their current offense.  However,
blacks (14 percent) were about twice as likely as whites (6
percent) or Hispanics (8 percent) to report having used crack
during that period.

     Twenty-five percent of the inmates had injected a drug at
least once during their lifetimes for a non-medical purpose--17 percent 
heroin or another opiate, 16 percent cocaine, 6 percent 
methamphetamine and 4 percent another drug.  Twelve percent had 
shared a needle at least once.
     
      Forty-three percent of all inmates had participated in a
drug treatment program. Almost half of those who had used a
drug during the month before their current offense had
participated in drug treatment after entering prison.

     Sixty-one percent of the violent inmates said they or
their victims or both had been drinking or using drugs at the
time of the crime.  Thirty-two percent of all inmates
committed their offense under the influence of alcohol. About
half of them had been drinking six hours or longer and had
consumed the equivalent of about three six-packs of beer or
two quarts of wine.

     Daily drinking was more common among whites (34 percent)
than among blacks (25 percent) or Hispanics (25 percent) and
among men (29 percent) than women (19 percent).  About half of
the daily drinkers had participated in an alcohol-abuse
program at one time or another.
 
                  Gang Membership
 
     Six percent of the state prison inmates belonged to a
gang before entering prison.  The survey defined a gang as having 5 or 6 
of the following characteristics:
 
         - Formal membership with a required initiation
           procedures or rules for members.
         - A recognized leader or leaders.
         - Common clothing, uniform-like garb, or caps or
           group colors, symbols, tattoos, or special symbols.
         - A group name.
         - Members from the same neighborhood, street or
           school.
         - Turf or territory where the group is known and
           where group activities usually take place.
 
     Half of the gang members in prison reported that their
gangs had 60 or more members.  On average, the inmates joined
a gang at age 14.  Half belonged to a gang for three years or
more and belonged at the time they were arrested for their
current offense.

     Of those in prison who had been gang members, 63 percent
reported having stolen motor vehicles or vehicle parts with
other gang members.  Fifty-eight percent had broken into homes
or other buildings as a gang activity.
 
                  HIV and Aids
 
     More than half of the prisoners had been tested for the
human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) at one time or anther and
reported the results to the survey interviewers. Of this
group, 2.2 percent were HIV-positive (3.3 percent among women
and 2.1 percent among men).  Among drug users the rate was 2.5
percent, compared to 0.8 percent among non-drug users.

    Intravenous drug users reported higher HIV-positive rates
(4.9 percent) than did other inmates.  Those who shared
needles with other drug users reported even higher rates (7.1
percent).
 
     Single copies of the BJS report, "Survey of State Prison
Inmates, 1991" (NCJ136949) as well as other bjs statistical
information and publications may be obtained from the National
Criminal Justice Reference Service, Box 6000, Rockville, MD
20850.  The telephone number is 1-301-251-5500 or
1-800-732-3277.

     Data from the tables and graphs used in many BJS reports
can be made available to news organizations in spreadsheet
files on 5 1/4" and 3 1/2" diskettes by calling
(202)-307-0784.  For additional information and statistics on
drugs and crime issues contact BJS's Drugs & Crime Data Center
& Clearinghouse in 1-800-666-3332.
 
93-40
After hours contact:  Stu Smith  301-983-9354
 
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Date Created: May 28, 2009