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Jails - Criminal Record And Demographic Characteristics

inmates percent population offenses

Because of the jail's function as the intake center for the entire criminal justice system, its population is the most heterogeneous and transient of any correctional institution. Recent data on jail inmate stocks reveal a distressed population, frequently in trouble with the law. (National data on the characteristics of jail "flows"—persons admitted to and released from jails—is not available; such data would probably reveal a less criminally experienced group—but a much more heterogeneous, more transient, and more vulnerable one (Frase, pp. 482–483; 501).) Over half of jail inmates were already under the supervision of the courts or corrections at their most recent arrest (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1998). More than two-thirds of jail inmates had prior sentences to probation or incarceration. Almost half of the inmates had already served three or more sentences. Compared with a 1989 population profile by the Bureau of Justice, offender drug use (marijuana, stimulants, hallucinogens, depressants, and opiates) had increased appreciably. Half of the inmates had used cocaine. Over one-third reported some physical or mental disability. Twenty-five percent of inmates had been treated at some time for mental or emotional problems. Almost half of the jailed women had been physically or sexually abused prior to their admission. Almost 30 percent had been raped. The distribution of offenses for which inmates were being held ranged from violent crimes (26%), to property offenses (27%), to drug offenses (22%), and public-order violations (24%). Pretrial detainees were more likely than convicted inmates to be in jail for serious offenses. Male inmates were nearly twice as likely as female inmates to be in jail for violent crimes. Women were more likely than men to be in jail for drug offenses. Proportionately more African American and Hispanic inmates than whites were in jail for drug offenses. And African American inmates were more likely than whites or Hispanics to be in jail for violence crimes. Among whites, the most common offense was driving while intoxicated (DWI).

Social and demographic characteristics of jail inmates reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics reinforce the image of a distressed and troubled population (1998). About 2.3 percent of the nation's jail population were under the age of eighteen. Almost one-quarter of jail inmates was between the ages of thirty-five and forty-four, reflecting a growth in the middle-aged population compared with previous years. This finding is consonant with the aging of America's population. More than one-third (36%) of inmates were unemployed before their most recent arrest. By contrast, 64 percent of inmates were employed at the time of their arrest. Of these, almost half worked full time, about 10 percent worked part time, and about 5 percent worked occasionally. In general, inmates had low incomes compared with the general population. Almost half had incomes of less than $7,200 per annum. Almost one-fourth of the inmates received some kind of government assistance: Welfare, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), food stamps, Social Security, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Only 15.7 percent of the inmates were married. The vast majority (58.6%) were never married. The remainder were widowed, divorced, or separated. The educational attainment of jail inmates is quite limited. Only about 14 percent had some college education (or more); 40 percent were high school graduates; 33 percent had some high school and a full 13 percent had an eighth grade education or less. Jail inmates were over twice as likely to have grown up in a single-parent household. Almost 12 percent had lived in childhood households without any parent. Another 14 percent had lived in a foster home or state agency at some time of their lives. Almost half of the inmates had at least one family member who had been incarcerated. Many had alcohol and drug abuse in their homes. Almost 12 percent of jail inmates were veterans.

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