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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, August 13, 2001

State prisons' population drops

Advertiser News Services

WASHINGTON — For the first time since the nation's prison boom began, the state prison population declined for a six-month period last year, the Justice Department announced yesterday. But the number of people behind bars grew by nearly 77 percent in the 1990s.

 •  "Prisoners in 2000" Department of Justice report
 •  The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice and theJustice Policy Institute
The combined population of state and federal prisons grew slightly when calculated for the entire year, but the 1.3 percent increase was the smallest since 1972. The numbers continue a trend under way since 1994, when the explosive prison growth rate crested.

Hawai'i's prison population increased by 3.1 percent in 2000, to 5,053 inmates from 4,903 at the end of 1999.

The study of inmates in local, state, federal and private prisons said more than 2 million people were incarcerated at the end of 2000. In 2000, for every 100,000 U.S. residents, there were 478 prisoners serving sentences of a year or more. At the end of 1990, the number was 292 prisoners per 100,000 residents.

Bureau of Justice statistician Allen Beck said the increase in prisoners amid a declining crime rate could be attributed to tougher federal and state sentencing guidelines, longer sentences and a greater tendency to return parole violators to prison.

But the surge in prison population seems to be leveling off, Beck said.

During the final six months of 2000, the nation's state prison population declined by 6,200 inmates — the first measured decline since 1972 — Beck said.

The sharpest increase in incarceration rates occurred among women. Since 1990, the number of male prisoners grew by 77 percent while the number of female prisoners increased 108 percent, the Justice Department report said. However, only 1 in 15 prisoners is a woman.

Dan Macallair, vice president of the nonprofit Justice Policy Institute, said the increase in female prisoners could be attributed, at least in part, to the federal government's war on drugs, which has resulted in more incarcerations and longer jail sentences. The number of women in prison convicted of drug crimes rose by more than a third during the 1990s.

"Women have borne a greater burden of the drug war than men," Macallair said, and are more likely to be incarcerated for a drug crime than a man.

The report also indicated that blacks continue to be overrepresented in prison. At the end of 2000, more than 46 percent of sentenced inmates were black males, and nearly 1 in 10 black men ages 25 to 29 was imprisoned.