Number of Prisoners Continues to Grow

Number of Prisoners Continues to Grow

Justice Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. (Summer 2003). "Number of Prisoners Continues to Grow." Alaska Justice Forum 20(2): 2-3. The total U.S. prison population continues the inexorable growth it has exhibited over the last two decades, although the rate of growth seems to have slowed somewhat. At the end of 2002, over 1,400,000 individuals were held in jails and prisons throughout the country, according to figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. This total includes sentenced felons and misdemeanants and unsentenced detainees. Close to 4,400 individuals were in custody under the jurisdiction of the state of Alaska.

The total U.S. prison population continues the inexorable growth it has exhibited over the last two decades, although the rate of growth seems to have slowed somewhat. At the end of 2002, over 1,400,000 individuals were held in jails and prisons throughout the country, according to figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. This total includes sentenced felons and misdemeanants and unsentenced detainees. Close to 4,400 individuals were in custody under the jurisdiction of the state of Alaska.

United States

The Bureau of Justice Statistics assembles its figures from counts reported by the state departments of corrections and the federal prison system. Table 1 shows the precise numbers for all the states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

According to the 2002 year-end figures for the nation as a whole, the rate of growth in the number of those imprisoned has slowed a little. There was an increase of only 2.6 percent in the number of prisoners between the end of 2001 and the end of 2002. The annual average growth rate since 1995 has been 3.6. percent.

Figure 1 shows graphically the rise in the total number of prisoners sentenced to more than one year—in general, sentenced felons—from 1925 through 2002. Since 1980, the actual number of individuals in custody sentenced to more than one year has grown by more than 300 percent, and since 1993 alone, by about 48 percent. These numbers represent a rise in the rate of incarceration from 139 per 100,000 resident population in 1980 to 476 in 2002 (Table 2).

Figure 1. Sentenced Prisoners Under Jurisdiction of State and Federal Correctional Authorities at End of Year, 1925-2002
Table 2. Sentenced Prisoners Under Jurisdiction of State and Federal Correctional Authorities at End of Year, 1925-2002

Alaska

The Alaska numbers have also risen steeply, although not as precipitously as the national figures. The total number of individuals in custody under the jurisdiction of the state of Alaska at the end of 2002 was 4,398. Over the last decade the total inmate population has increased by over 60 percent, from 2,703 at the end of 1993 (Table 3). These year-end totals include all sentenced and unsentenced individuals held under state jurisdiction, including those in a private facility in Arizona and other out-of-state facilities.

Table 3. Prisoners Under Alaska Jurisdiction at End of Year, 1993-2002

Further, the subpopulation of individuals sentenced to more than one year—essentially, the long-term prison population—grew by more than 17 percent in 2002 alone. The rate of incarceration for Alaska—which is based on this subpopulation—was 396 per 100,000 resident population at the end of 2002.

Alaska had over 30 percent of its inmates in private facilities at the end of 2002, one of the highest percentages among the states. Nationally, 6.5 percent of all inmates are held in privately-owned facilities.