Pubdate: Mon,  8 Nov 2004
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2004 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Anne Gearan, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Incarceration)
Bookmark: (Women)


Drug Crimes Blamed For Big Increase

WASHINGTON - The number of women in state and federal prisons is at an 
all-time high and growing fast, with the incarceration rate for females 
increasing at nearly twice that of men, the government reported Sunday.

There were 101,179 women in prisons last year, 3.6 percent more than in 
2002, the Justice Department said. That marks the first time the women's 
prison population has topped 100,000, and continues a trend of rapid growth.

Overall, men still are far more likely than women to be in jail or prison, 
and black men are more likely than any other group to be locked up.

At the close of 2003, U.S. prisons held 1,368,866 men, the Bureau of 
Justice Statistics reported. The total was 2 percent more than in 2002.

Expressed in terms of the population at large, that means that in 2003, one 
in every 109 U.S. men was in prison. For women the figure was one in every 

Longer sentences, especially for drug crimes, and fewer prisoners granted 
parole or probation are the main reasons for the expanding U.S. prison 
population, said Marc Mauer, assistant director of the Sentencing Project, 
which advocates alternatives to long prison terms for many kinds of crimes.

The increase began three decades ago, and continues. The new report 
compared 2003 figures with those from 1995.

The number of women in prison has grown 48 percent since 1995, when the 
figure was 68,468, the report said. The male prison population has grown 29 
percent over that time, from 1,057,406.

Year by year, the number of women incarcerated grew an average of 5 
percent, compared to an average annual increase of 3.3 percent for men.

"It coincides exactly with the inception of the war on drugs," in the 1980s 
and continuing into the 1990s, Mauer said. "It represents a sort of vicious 
cycle of women engaged in drug abuse and often connected with financial or 
psychological dependence with a boyfriend," or other man involved in drug 
crimes, Mauer said.

The prison figures do not fully reflect the number of people behind bars. 
About 80,000 women were in local jails last year, along with more than 
600,000 men.

The federal prison system held a large share of female prisoners, with a 
population of 11,635 at the close of 2003. One state -- Texas -- held even 
more, with a population of 13,487. California, the nation's largest prison 
system, held 10,656 women. North Dakota had fewer women in prison than any 
other state -- 113.

Among other findings in the report:

* Among the more than 1.4 million sentenced inmates at the end of 2003, an 
estimated 403,165 were black men ages 20 to 39.

* At the end of 2003, 9.3 percent of black men ages 25 to 29 were in 
prison, compared with 2.6 percent of Latino men and 1.1 percent of white 
men in the same age group.
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager