Maryland, D.C. stay on low side of imprisonment rate State shows 2.2% rise, district down 10.5% between 1994 and 1995

September 08, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON - The flood of men and women into America's jails and prisons continued last year, bringing their total to more than double the inmate count in 1985, the Justice Department has reported.

Rapid prison population growth in recent years - reflecting a national wave of tough anti-drug laws - has strained state and federal budgets as corrections officials have raced to find bed space for 841,200 additional people since 1985, or more than 1,618 new beds every week.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons operated 26 percent over capacity in 1995, while state prison systems reported operating between 14 percent and 25 percent above capacity, the new Justice Department study showed.

Both Maryland and the District of Columbia bucked the national trend. Maryland's prison population grew by 2.2 percent in the 1994-1995 period. In the same period, the District of Columbia's prison population fell 10.5 percent.

The combined federal, state and local prison population grew 6.8 percent last year, slightly lower than the 8.4 percent average annual growth recorded since 1985.

At the end of 1995 there were 600 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents, up from 313 in 1985.

The fast pace of growth reflects a number of trends, including very tough mandatory sentencing for some drug crimes and new state and federal provisions designed to hammer repeat offenders.

Judges have less opportunity to be lenient these days because of new laws that provide for specific prison terms rather than the maximum-to-minimum ranges formerly specified.

Prisoners are generally a youthful group because the vast majority of serious crimes are committed by young men. But because of longer sentences in recent years, the prison population is aging - with more middle-aged prisoners than before.

Politicians and experts on crime are divided over whether the large increase in the number of Americans behind bars has contributed to recent drops in violent-crime rates across the nation.

A number of cities, including New York, have reported significant drops in homicide rates in recent years. But some criminologists say changes in drug use patterns and demographic trends may be more responsible for recent declines in violent crime. And others say the benefits seem small when compared with the large costs.

A third of the nation's state prisoners were located in just three states - California, Texas and New York. The prison boom has been biggest in the states with the toughest sentences. Texas also had the highest per-capita incarceration rate in the nation, 653 prisoners with sentences of more than a year per 100,000 residents.

Other states with high rates of incarceration included Louisiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina. In 14 states, the total prison population increased by 10 percent or more during 1995. North Carolina led the way with a 24.2 percent increase, followed by Mississippi, Idaho, Wyoming and Nebraska.

A statistical look

WASHINGTON - Here is a state-by-state look at prison population trends in 1995, from a Department of Justice report:

Largest percentage growth: The 10 states with the largest percentage of prison population growth between 1994 and 1995 were:

North Carolina

24.2%

Mississippi

19.0

Idaho

18.4

Wyoming

15.4

Nebraska

14.8

Pennsylvania

14.5

Oregon

13.7

North Dakota

13.4

Utah

13.2

New Mexico

13.0

Smallest growth, '90-'95: The 10 states with prison-population declines or the smallest percentage gains between 1994 and 1995 were:

District of Columbia

-10.5

Maine

-1.8

Rhode Island

-0.6

New Hampshire

-0.3

Michigan

1.2

Montana

1.4

Maryland

2.2

Georgia

2.5

New York

2.6

Virginia

2.8

Largest growth, '90-'95: The 10 jurisdictions with the largest percentage growth in the five-year period 1990-1995 were :

Texas

127.9

North Carolina

59.5

Virginia

57.5

Mississippi

55.3

Minnesota

53.1

Federal system

53.0

Georgia

52.9

New Hampshire

50.1

Wisconsin

50.0

Arizona

49.6

Smallest growth, '90-'95: The 10 states with prison population declines or the smallest percentage gains in the five-year period 1990-1995 were:

Maine

-5.0

District of Columbia

-1.5

South Carolina

13.2

Michigan

20.0

Maryland

20.2

Rhode Island

21.3

Kansas

22.1

New York

24.8

Montana

25.5

North Dakota

25.9

Highest rates of incarceration: The 10 states with the highest rates of incarceration per 100,000 residents in 1995 were:

Texas

653

Louisiana

568

Oklahoma

552

South Carolina

515

Nevada

482

Arizona

473

Alabama

471

Georgia

470

Mississippi

404

Florida

447

Lowest rates of incarceration: The 10 states with the lowest rates of incarceration per 100,000 residents in 1995 were:

North Dakota

Minnesota

105

Maine

111

West Virginia

136

Vermont

143

Utah

173

New Hampshire

174

Massachusetts

175

Nebraska

185

Rhode Island

186

` Pub Date: 9/08/96.

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