Drugs, Abuse Common Link of Jail Inmates, Study Finds


A rising proportion of inmates in the nation’s jails is dependent on drugs, the Justice Department reported Sunday. More than a third of the inmates were taking drugs at the time of the offense that got them locked up, and more than 60% were using drugs or alcohol or both.

More than half of them said they used narcotics in the month before the offense.

The department also reported that 48% of female inmates and 13% of male inmates were physically or sexually abused at some point in their lives.

The findings emerged from a profile of U.S. jail inmates, conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 1996 when there were 507,026 people in local lockups. That was an increase of 28% in the nation’s jail population since the previous survey, conducted in 1989. By mid-1997, the number of inmates was 567,079.


“A higher percentage of inmates in 1996 than in 1989 reported use for every type of drug except cocaine,” the Justice report said. “Overall, 82% of all jail inmates in 1996 said they had ever used an illegal drug, up from 78% in 1989.”

Sixty-two percent of convicted inmates said they drank alcohol regularly--at least once a week for at least a month--compared with 64% who said they had regularly used drugs. At the time they committed their offense, about 41% said they had been drinking, and 36% said they were using drugs. In all, six in 10 convicted inmates were using alcohol or drugs or both at the time of the crime.

The survey was based on hourlong interviews of 6,133 inmates in 431 jails in late 1995 and early 1966.

More than half the inmates were free on probation, parole, bond or other pretrial release when they were jailed for a new offense. Almost a third, 31.7%, were on probation. An additional 13.1% were on parole, 12.7% were free on bail or bond and 4.4% had been released under conditions such as electronic monitoring or house arrest.


Almost half of all inmates grew up in one-parent homes (43% with their mother as single parent and 5% with their father). Almost 40% said their parents or guardians had abused alcohol or drugs. Nearly 40% said their parents or guardians received public assistance when they were growing up.

Female inmates were 10.2% of the jail population in 1996. Forty-eight percent reported having been physically or sexually abused at some point in their lives and 27% said they had been raped. In 1989, 44.4% of female inmates reported past abuse; rape was not measured.

Thirteen percent of the male inmates said they had been abused at least once in their lives; 3% said they had been raped.