California Leads U.S. in Inmate Increase : Prisons: State’s growth rate in 1980s more than doubles national average. Rise in drug-related crimes and tougher enforcement are factors.


California outpaced all other states in prison population growth in the 1980s, with the number of inmates jumping 263%, according to Justice Department statistics released Sunday.

The sharp increase reflected a nationwide trend. But the growth rate of California’s inmate population more than doubled the national average of a 113% increase from 1980 to 1989, the department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics reported.

California held 87,297 people in state and federal prisons last year--one of every eight Americans imprisoned. In comparison, second-place New York’s prisons contained 51,227 inmates in 1989, while Texas prisons held 40,789.


Nationwide, the prison population grew from 329,821 to 703,687 inmates in the last decade. Of every 100,000 Americans, a record 271 are now in prison.

There is no sign that the decade-long growth is tapering off either in the state or the nation. In 1989, California incarcerated 11,100 more prisoners than the previous year--a jump of 14.6%.

The report reflects how an increase in drug-related crimes and tougher enforcement in those cases are helping to swell U.S. prison populations. In particular, sentences for drug offenses are drawing more and more women into what remain predominantly male institutions.

In the last year, the number of women prisoners increased by nearly 22%.

“We do find that the women, while making up only a small portion of the overall population, are more likely to be in on a drug offense,” said Lawrence A. Greenfeld, author of the report. “So, as the rate of drug offenses goes up, so does the number of women behind bars.”

The approximately 39,000 women imprisoned nationwide represent 5.6% of all state and federal inmates.

In California, the 6,000 female prisoners now account for nearly 7% of the state’s prisoners after a one-year jump of 22.6%, the Justice Department found.


Though federal and state prisons in 1989 increased their capacities by 40,000 to 60,000 beds, the report found, that effort fell short of the need created as 76,099 additional prisoners were brought into the prison system.

“Right now there’s a need for another 1,500 beds a week, and while there are a number of initiatives to increase space, we’re not there yet,” said Greenfeld.

He noted the mounting strain on the U.S. and state prison systems, as prisons nationwide are operating at 10% to 29% above their designed capacities.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia now are forced to house 18,236 prisoners in temporary facilities or local jails because of overcrowding, the report found. California is not one of those states using such facilities for state prisoners, according to the report.

Women Behind Bars

Percentage Increase Number of of all from female inmates inmates 1988 California 6,000 6.9% 22.6% Flordia 2,551 6.4% 26.9% New York 2,465 4.8% 40.1% Texas 2,044 5.0% 24.0% Ohio 1,995 6.5% 26.5%

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics