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Publication Prevalence of Imprisonment in the U.S. Population, 1974-2001

Thomas P. Bonczar, Bureau of Justice Statistics

August 17, 2003    NCJ 197976

Presents estimates of the number of living persons in the United States who have ever been to State or Federal prison. Such estimates include persons in prison and on parole, as well as those previously incarcerated but no longer under parole supervision. The report also provides updated estimates of the lifetime chances of going to prison using standard demographic life table techniques. Such techniques project the likelihood of incarceration for persons born in 2001, assuming current incarceration rates continue until their death. Each of the measures is estimated by age, gender, race, and Hispanic origin.

This report includes updates of data from a previous BJS report, Lifetime Likelihood of Going to State or Federal Prison.


  • At yearend 2001, over 5.6 million U.S. adults had ever served time in State or Federal prison.
  • Of adults in 2001 who had ever served time in prison, nearly as many were black (2,166,000) as were white (2,203,000). An estimated 997,000 were Hispanic.
  • If incarceration rates remain unchanged, 6.6% of U.S. residents born in 2001 will go to prison at some time during their lifetime.
  • U.S. residents ages 35 to 39 in 2001 were more likely to have gone to prison (3.8%) than any other age group, up from 2.3% in 1991.

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