The Bureau of Justice Statistics keeps track of statistics associated with criminal offenders. These statistics record a variety of different information pertaining to the processing and imprisonment of criminal offenders in the United States. The Bureau also keeps track of the prevalence of imprisonment as well as the lifetime likelihood of spending time in a prison facility. The most recent data included analyzes these trends during the year 2001. On December 31, 2001 it was estimated that approximately 5.6 million adults had spend time in prison. Of these, 4.3 million were former prisoners while the remaining 1.3 million were still in prison. Further, it was estimated that nearly one third of the former prisoners were still under some type of supervision including 731,000 who were on parole, 437,000 who were on probation and 166,000 were in local jails. Overall, the report estimated that 2.7% of American adults had spent time in prison, which had increased from 1.8% in 1991. This increase is the result of an increase of adults being incarcerated for the first time. Finally, the prevalence of imprisonment was higher for certain ethnic groups. The prevalence for black males was 16.6% compared to 7.7% for Hispanic males and 2.6% for white males. The prevalence for black females was 1.7% compared to 0.7% for Hispanic females and 0.3% for white females.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics also keeps track of how likely a specific person is to spend time in prison, including a breakdown by gender and ethnicity. The report estimates that one of every fifteen American persons (6.6%) will spend time in prison at some point in their life. The chances differ among gender and ethnicities. Males have a higher lifetime chance of spending time in prison (11.3%) compared to females (1.8%). The lifetime chance for blacks is 18.6% compared to 10% for Hispanics and 3.4% for whites. Based on these findings, the Bureau of Justice Statistics predicts that 32% of black males will spend some time in the prison system during their lifetime compared to 17% of Hispanic males and 5.9% of white males.
The report also breaks down the demographics of current (2001) prison inmates. The number of female inmates rose 0.6% from 6% to 6.6% between 1995 and 2001. Sixty-four percent of prison inmates were members of racial or ethnic minorities. The report estimated that 57% of inmates were under the age of 35. Approximately 4% of the total inmate population were not United States citizens at the time of incarceration. Approximately 6% of the inmate population were imprisoned in private facilities. Only 57% of inmates had obtained a high school diploma or its equivalent. Finally, the Bureau of Justice Statistics includes a breakdown of the types of crimes Americans were imprisoned for. Approximately half (49%) were imprisoned for committing a violent crime. One fifth (20%) were imprisoned for a property crime and a little over one fifth (21%) were imprisoned as a result of a drug crime.
These results provide a good way to determine the likelihood of a person going to jail during his or her lifetime and also provide statistics about the types of crimes Americans commit. However, the results lump state and federal prison statistics together. This is a drawback because the results are generalized to the entire country when the statistics may differ greatly across different state prisons depending on location. Similarly, the locations of different prisons may skew this data because of the demographic makeup of different areas with regards to race and ethnicity. Finally, the statistics do not consider the population size of areas that house inmates. Demographics are often different depending on the size of the city or town. Despite these weaknesses, the statistics presented are still valuable and useful because they present a general portrayal of criminal offenders. The statistics can be used to provide intervention or prevention services to those who are at a higher risk for incarceration over a lifetime. The statistics also enable law enforcement and governmental officials to examine criminal offender data in order to introduce legislation aimed at reducing crime.
Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2007). Criminal offenders statistics. Retrieved on July 14, 2009