1. News & Issues
Send to a Friend via Email
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

U.S. Prison Population Approaches 1.5 Million

More Than 100,000 Women Now in Prison


State and federal authorities held 1,470,045 prisoners as of December 31, 2003, a 2.1 percent increase during the year, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons, the largest system, grew by more than 9,500 inmates during 2003 (5.8 percent) while state prisons grew by about 20,000 inmates (1.6 percent).

Eleven states had increases of at least 5 percent in 2003, led by North Dakota (11.4 percent), Minnesota (10.3 percent) and Montana (8.9 percent). Several large states also had significant increases in prisoner counts, such as Texas (4,900), Florida (4,400) and California (3,100). Eleven states experienced a decline in population, led by Connecticut (down 4.2 percent) and New York (down 2.8 percent).

During 2003, the number of female prisoners grew 3.6 percent, which was higher than the 2.0 percent increase in male prisoners. As of last December 31, there were 101,179 females under state or federal jurisdiction, accounting for 6.9 percent of all prisoners. Men were almost 15 times more likely than women to be incarcerated.

As of December 31, 2003, state prisons were operating at capacity to as much as 16 percent above capacity. Federal prisons were operating at 39 percent above capacity. At the same time, privately operated facilities housed 95,522 inmates, or 5.7 percent of state inmates and 12.6 percent of federal inmates. Since the end of 2000, the number of federal inmates held in private facilities has increased more than 40 percent, while state inmates held in private facilities declined 1.8 percent. As of last December 31, local jails held another 73,000 state and federal inmates, about 5 percent of all prisoners.

44 Percent of Prisoners Are Black

Among the 1.4 million inmates sentenced to more than one year at year-end 2003, an estimated 44 percent were black, 35 percent white, 19 percent Hispanic and 2 percent of other races. The percent of inmates who were racial or ethnic minorities has changed little since 1995.

The nation's prison population is becoming more middle-aged. From 1995 through 2003, inmates between the ages of 40 and 54 accounted for more than 46 percent of the total growth in the U.S. prison population. Although the number of older inmates has been increasing, two-thirds of all prisoners were younger than 40 at the end of 2003.

According to previously published reports, the increasing number of violent offenders accounted for 63 percent of the total growth among state inmates from 1995 to 2001 (the most recent available data). State sentencing reforms increased admissions to prison (from 522,000 in 1995 to 615,400 in 2002) and increased average time served in prison (from 23 months in 1995 to 30 months in 2001).

102,338 in Juvenile Facilities

Overall, corrections authorities incarcerated 2,212,475 prisoners at the end of 2003. This total consists of inmates held in:

  • Federal and state prisons, 1,387,848, excluding those inmates held in local jails.

  • Local jails, 691,301, including those held for state and federal authorities.

  • Juvenile facilities, 102,338 (as of October 2002).

  • Territorial prisons, 16,494.

  • Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (the former Immigration and Naturalization Service), 10,323.

  • Military facilities, 2,165.

  • Indian country jails, 2,006 (as of midyear 2002).

As of December 31, 2003, one in every 140 U.S. residents was confined in a state or federal prison or a local jail.

  1. About.com
  2. News & Issues
  3. Crime
  4. Prison System
  5. U.S. Prison Population Approaches 1.5 Million

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.