The Oregonian, Monday, August 19, 1996, p. A5

Number of inmates doubles in 10 years

  • One in 167 Americans was in prison or jail at the end of 1995, and the total number has risen 113 percent since 1985

    The Associated Press

    Hang 'em high WASHINGTON - The number of men and women in the nation's prisons and jails climbed to nearly 1.6 million last year, culminating a decade in which the U.S. rate of incarceration nearly doubled, the Justice Department reported Sunday.

    By the end of 1995, one of every 167 Americans was in prison or jail, compared to one of every 320 a decade earlier, according to the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics.

    The world's highest incarceration rate has seesawed in recent years between the United States and Russia, with both far outdistancing other nations.

    The bureau said that as of last Dec. 31, there were 1,078,357 men and women in federal and state prisons, which usually house sentenced prisoners serving more than one year. That was an increase of 86,745 from the previous year, or 8.7 percent, slightly above the average annual growth rate during the past five years.

    As of June 30, 1995, the most recent date for which figures are available, there were 507,044 men and women in local jails, which usually hold people awaiting trial or serving less than one-year sentences. That was an increase of 20,570, or 4.2 percent, slightly below the average annual growth rate during the past five years.

    That total number of inmates in custody has more than doubled since 1985, up 113 percent. The rate of incarceration has grown from 313 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents in 1985 to 600 inmates per 100,000 in 1995.

    The bureau also reported that:

  • A spate of jail construction has ended overcrowding at local levels, but state and federal prisons continue to be jammed beyond capacity.

  • Women accounted for 6.1 percent of all state and federal inmates and 10.2 percent of those in local jails.

  • An estimated 7,888 youths younger than 18 were in local jails last year, a 17 percent increase from the year before. More than three-quarters had been tried or were awaiting trial as adults. As the rate of juvenile violent crime rose steadily from 1987 until 1995, when it declined, more jurisdictions increased the number of crimes for which juveniles could be tried as adults.

    In Oregon

    Oregon is among states showing the biggest percentage growth in prison populations last year.

    Oregon's 13.7 percent increase to 7,826 inmates in 1995 - the seventh biggest nationally - was twice the national average of 6.8 percent, the Justice Department's Bureau of Prisons reported Sunday. Neighboring Washington, with a larger prison population totaling 11,608 in 1995, showed a 7.2 percent increase from the year before.

    The increase in Oregon came even before the state could feel the full force of tougher sentencing laws adopted by voters in 1994.

    Oregon officials predict the prison population will double in the next six years as a result of new mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes. The sentences apply to juveniles as young as 15.

    "We are at the beginning of a big growth curve," said Phil Lemman, executive director of the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission.

    The new laws place mandatory minimum sentences on about 20 felonies and eliminate credits for good time.



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