NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Prison Population Reaches 1.8 Million

March 15, 1999

The U.S. Justice Department estimates that there were 1.8 million people behind bars in the U.S. as of mid-1998 -- double the number held 12 years ago.

According to the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics:

  • Of the total, 1.2 million were held in prisons, with 600,000 confined in local jails.
  • Prisons generally hold criminals sentenced to a year of more, while jails typically hold those awaiting trial or whose sentences are for less than a year.
  • The number of inmates in state prisons grew 4.1 percent last year; in federal prisons, 8.3 percent; and in jails, 4.5 percent -- for an average year-to-year of 4.4 percent.
  • The report's author said the number of have been pretty steady throughout the 1990s, with a steady increase each year.

California has the highest number of inmates at 158,742, while North Dakota has the lowest, 883. On a per capita basis, Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate of any state -- 709 per 100,000 state residents. Minnesota has the lowest -- 117 per 100,000.

Source: Anne Gearan, "1.8 Million in U.S. Prisons, the Most Ever," USA Today, and Fox Butterfield, "Number of Inmates Reaches Record 1.8 Million," New York Times, both March 15, 1999.


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