The U.S. rate of incarceration is now the highest in the world: 702 persons per 100,000 population were held in prisons and jails at midyear 2000—a rate 53 per cent higher than in 1990. For those sentenced to more than one year, the rate was 481 per 100,000. Close to 2,000,000 persons were being held by state and federal authorities at the end of June 2000 (Tables 1 and 2).
The rate of incarceration in Alaska is lower than in the nation as a whole—336 per 100,000. (Because the state has, for the most part, an integrated jail-prison system, this figure encompasses both populations.) Despite this lower rate of incarceration, however, the state's prison population grew from 2,362 at the end of 1990 to 4,025 at midyear 2000—an increase of over 70 per cent.
Demographics of Alaska Prisons
The picture of those incarcerated by the state of Alaska is predominantly one of young male inmates, of whom more than one half are members of racial or ethnic minorities. Of the 3,583 individuals held in secure facilities, 93 per cent were men. (See Table 3.)
Members of two minorities groups are incarcerated at levels very disproportionate to their percentages in the general population: African American and Native Americans. The number of Alaska Natives and American Indians incarcerated at the beginning of 2001 was 1,312—37 per cent of the total prison population. The number of African-Americans incarcerated was 450—12.5 per cent of the prison population. According to Alaska Department of Labor figures, Alaska Natives comprise close to 17 per cent of the general population and African-Americans, 4 per cent.
In Alaska, prison population growth has been accompanied by a substantial increase in the budget of the Department of Corrections, from just under $97 million in FY 90 to over $165 million in FY01—a rise of 71 per cent. According to figures assembled by the U.S. Department of Commerce, inflation totaled 35 per cent over that decade. This was one of greatest budget increases among the state justice agencies during that period, surpassed only that of the Division of Juvenile Justice. (See Table 4. The budget of the Department of Education, a non-justice agency, is included in the table for comparison purposes.)
Despite the increase in the corrections budget, the extended rise in the state prison population has resulted in facility overcrowding—a problem paralleled in the nation as a whole. Alaska's fifteen main facilities have a capacity of 2,786. Because the prison population has exceeded this capacity for a number of years, the state has dealt with the overcrowding issue by contracting with the Arizona Detention Center, a private facility. At the beginning of January this facility held 793 Alaskans, making it essentially the largest Alaska prison. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only New Mexico and the District of Columbia imprison a higher percentage of their inmates in private facilities.
Within the state, the last major facility to be built was Spring Creek Correctional Facility, which opened in mid-1988. Over the last several years there have been two extended efforts to build private prisons in Alaska. The first of these, which was unsuccessful, pursued the possibility of erecting a prison at the former Fort Greely near Delta Junction. The second, currently underway, is seeking to build a facility on the Kenai Peninsula.
International ContextThe United States now has one of the largest prison populations in the world and incarcerates people at a higher rate than any other country. According to figures assembled by the Sentencing Project from British government research, the U.S. rate of incarceration now surpasses that of Russia and is 5 to 10 times higher than that of Canada or most countries in Western
The figures discussed in the preceding article and presented in the tables have been assembled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Alaska Department of Corrections, and the Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C. The numbers were calculated by different agencies at slightly different times so totals and rates vary somewhat according to source. Specific source information is given with each table.