At the end of 2005, the total number of individuals incarcerated in the country’s prisons and jails stood at 2,193,798, according to figures recently released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. This represents an incarceration rate of 737 people for every 100,000 people in the general population—the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
Between 1995 and 2005, the population of the nation’s prisons alone—which, in general,
contain those sentenced to more than one year—grew from 1,085,022 to 1,461,132—a 35
percent increase. The rate of incarceration for prisons alone (in other words, excluding
those held in jails) was 491 per 100,000.
Table 1 presents incarceration totals and rates for the state and federal prison systems for 1995, 2004, and 2005. The largest state prison systems were those in California, Texas, New York and Florida. In general, the highest rates of prison incarceration were in southern states, with Louisiana showing a prison incarceration rate of 797 per 100,000.
The Alaska Department of Corrections reports a total incarcerated population of 3,385 on January 3, 2007 (Table 2). The Alaska incarcerated population has grown by almost 70 percent since 1984. According to the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics—1985, at the end of 1984 Alaska had a total incarcerated population—both sentenced and unsentenced prisoners—of 1,995. (“Justice System Operating Expenditures” in this issue of the Alaska Justice Forum presents expenditures for state justice system agencies since 1984, including the Department of Corrections.)
The percentage increase in Alaska’s prison population is much higher than the percentage increase in the state’s population as a whole. From 1984 through 2006, the state’s population grew by only 28 percent.
At the end of 2005, there were 4,812 persons incarcerated under the jurisdiction of the state of Alaska. The figures for Alaska reveal that the number of incarcerated sentenced prisoners under the jurisdiction of the state grew by 36 percent from 1995 through 2005, from 2,042 to 2,781. Alaska’s rate of incarceration for sentenced prisoners (414) was lower than the average national rate (491).
The number of those under state or federal jurisdiction who were incarcerated in private (for-profit)—facilities grew over 74 percent between 2000 and 2005. At the end of 2005, the state and federal governments housed a total 107,447 prisoners in private facilities—7 percent of the total number in prison. Alaska had 1,365 prisoners—slightly over 28 percent of the state’s total number of incarcerated—held in a private facility in Arizona.
To a great extent, the use of private facilities is a reflection of the continued growth in the number of people being imprisoned and the resultant crowding in existing state and federal facilities. The prisons located in Alaska were operating at 111 percent capacity at the end of 2005.
Figures 1 and 2 show comparative world incarceration rates. The U.S. rate of incarceration was much higher than that of other industrialized democracies, such as Canada, Germany and France.
The above article is based in part on the Bureau of Justice Statistics report “Prisoners in 2005,” NCJ-215092.