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Profile of Jail Inmates: Sociodemographic Findings From the 1978 Survey of Inmates of Local Jails

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 1980
Publication Series
An estimated 158,000 persons were being held in the country's 3,500 jails at the time of a nationwide survey conducted in February 1978 by the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Not only convicted criminals but also a sizable minority charged but not convicted of a crime were represented in this total, a 12-percent increase in that recorded by a comparable survey taken in 1972. Certain major criminal justice reforms, such as exclusion of juveniles from adult detention facilities, reduced incarceration rates for nuisance-type offenses, and imposition of probation instead of confinement for some crimes, helped moderate the rise in the jail population. As in 1972, males predominated overwhelmingly in the 1978 jail population, while the proportion of women was unchanged. Blacks and young persons continued to be represented disproportionately; in fact, the jail population in 1978 was more youthful than in 1972. The number of juveniles held in jails dropped sharply, although this reflected legislation prohibiting the joint housing of adult and juvenile offenders. Single persons made up three-fourths of the inmate total. A relatively low educational level was evidenced by the fact that three out of every five inmates lacked a high school diploma. Military veterans were relatively less numerous in the jail population than in the national population. People experiencing economic hardships contributed disproportionately to the jail population. Predetention employment rates and incomes were far lower than those in the general population, and many inmates had been financially dependent on public welfare benefits. The proportion of female inmates who had been subject to these disadvantages was particularly high and, to some extend, the same could be said for blacks compared with whites. Not surprisingly, therefore, black female inmates were the most likely of the four largest race-sex groups to have been living in poverty. Drug and alcohol abuse had played a significant role in the lives of many inmates. About 4 out of every 10 had used some drug daily. A fourth of all women inmates had been heroin addicts, far more than the corresponding proportion for men. (Author abstract modified)

Date Published: October 1, 1980