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Another statistic you really don’t want to be
By Ann Coppola, News Reporter
Published: 12/14/2007

Bjs The Bureau of Justice Statistics released two reports this month that provide an in-depth snapshot of the nation’s correctional population from the end of last year. According to Prisons in 2006 and Probation and Parole in the United States 2006, 7.2 million men and women, or one in every 31 U.S. adults, were in a prison or jail or on probation or parole by the end of 2006.

“One thing that’s important to point out that typically gets lost in that ‘one in 31 adults’ is that of those 7.2 million people, 4.2 million are on probation,” says BJS statistician Lauren Glaze, who wrote the probation and parole report. “Over time, the increase in the correctional population has been driven by probation.”

Although the probation population continues to grow, it increased just 1.7 percent compared to average increases of 2.5 percent a year since 1995. Not surprisingly, the bigger states have seen increases in probation.

“There was a nationwide increase of about 70,000 probationers from 2005 to 2006, and California accounted for 13,400 of those,” Glaze points out. “Overall, five states accounted for 57 percent of the growth in probation: California, Minnesota, Alabama, Colorado, and Pennsylvania.”

Women on probation is another factor behind increasing community supervision numbers.

“Since about 1995, we’re definitely showing a trend in the increase in the number of women on probation,” Glaze says. “There’s a little more stability in parole, but those numbers also increased. This falls in line with the increasing number of women in prison. If you look at trends for race, there is an increase in the proportion of parolees who are white, but a 4.1 percent decrease in those who are black. The Hispanic parolee population has remained fairly stable over the last eleven years.”

Something new the parole and probation report did this year was to look at those parolees at risk of returning to prison or jail, instead of just reporting the total number of adults exiting facilities who returned to incarceration.

“An offender at risk is defined as all adults on parole as of January 1, 2006, and those released during the year,” Glaze explains. “Of those at risk, one in six under parole returned to incarceration.”

On the incarcerated population side, bigger increases in the big states were a surprising new trend.

“One of new trends or changes between 2005 and 2006 is that states with the larger prison populations grew more rapidly than they had grown in the last five years,” says BJS statistician Bill Sabol, who wrote the prisons report. “For example, the ten states that had the largest prison population in 2000 grew at under one percent per year for five years from 2000 to 2005, but between 2005 and 2006, they grew at three times that rate.”

The prisons report also found some unexpected patterns emerging in terms of race and gender.

“In 2000, black women were incarcerated at over five times the rate of white women,” Sabol points out. “In 2006, it dropped to three times the rate. So in fact, the estimated number of black women in prison has gone down slightly or remained flat, while the number of white women has gone up. Also, the number of incarcerated Hispanic men has grown. So has the number of white men, but the incarcerated Hispanic male population is growing faster than the white.”

The report also examined private facilities, and those that depend on them the most.

“The number of prisoners held in private facilities has sort of historically bounced back and forth,” Sabol explains, “but in the past couple of years since 2005, the number of state prisoners in private facilities has grown faster than the number of federal prisoners in private facilities.”

Even with all the focus on prison overcrowding this year, the prisons report suggests the situation is improving. State prisons operated between 98 percent and 114 percent of capacity at year end 2006, compared to between 100 percent and 115 percent in 2000.

“And if you look back to 1995 it was 125 percent,” Sabol says. “What we’re working on now is a report that will hopefully help us to explain why since 1995 prison overcapacity has gone down.”

BJS will keep working with the data to discover more of the motivational factors driving the new numbers.

“These annual reports in some respects are like companies’ earning reports,” Sabol says. “They give a picture of what’s going on, and we’re going to keep working with the data to help us understand the longer term trends.”

Related Resources:

Read the probation and parole report

Read the prisons report

More reports from BJS


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