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One in 37 done time

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One in 37 in US said to have done time
Record 2.1 million in prison in 2002
By Curt Anderson, Associated Press, 8/18/2003

WASHINGTON -- About one in every 37 US adults was either imprisoned at the end of 2001 or had been incarcerated at one time, the government reported yesterday.

The 5.6 million people with "prison experience" represented about 2.7 percent of the 210 million adults in the United States as of Dec. 31, 2001, the report found. The study, by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics, looks at people who served a sentence for a crime in state or federal prison, not those temporarily held in jail.

The study is the first to measure the prevalence of prison time among American adults. Last month, the bureau reported that a record 2.1 million people were in federal, state, or local custody at the end of 2002.

Between 1974 and 2001, the number of current and former inmates rose by 3.8 million, the study found. Of those, 2.7 million were previously incarcerated.

Experts say the growing numbers of former prisoners means more people in society will have difficulty finding jobs because of their felony convictions. Many cannot vote and they are more likely to have family or emotional problems that exact a toll on state and local budgets.

The number of people sent to prison for the first time tripled from 1974 to 2001 as sentences got tougher, especially for drug offenses. There are more former prisoners as well, the result of longer life expectancies and a larger US population. Prison experiences vary greatly by gender and ethnic origin.

"At every age, men have higher chances of going to prison than women, and blacks and Hispanics have higher chances than whites," statistician Thomas P. Bonczar said in the report.

Almost 5 percent of men in 2001 had done prison time, compared with less than 1 percent of women.

No matter their ethnic origin, people between the ages of 35 and 44 in 2001 had the highest rates of lifetime incarceration, 6.5 percent for men, almost 1 percent for women. About one-third of the former prisoners in 2001 were under correctional system supervision, including 166,000 in local jails. The rest were either on parole or on probation.

The study projects that, by 2010, about 3.4 percent of the adult US population will have had served time in prison. That translates to 7.7 million people.

If 2001 incarceration rates continue at their current levels, about 6.6 percent of the people born that year can expect to serve a prison sentence during their lifetime, based on life expectancy tables, the study said.

That compares with 5.2 percent of those born in 1991 and 1.9 percent of people born in 1974, according to the estimates.

Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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