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Profile of Jail Inmates, 1996


SUNDAY APRIL 26, 1998           202/307-0784

     WASHINGTON, D.C. -- There are high
levels of drug and alcohol dependence among
the nation's jail inmates,  according to a
Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) survey of
men and women in local jails between October
1995 and March 1996.
     More than half of all convicted jail
inmates reported having used drugs in the
month before their offense, compared to 44
percent in 1989, when the last such survey
was conducted.  Sixty-three percent of the
convicted males used alcohol regularly, as
did 50 percent of the females.  Sixty percent
were using drugs or alcohol or both at the
time of the offense for which they were
     The survey also showed that a
substantial number of jail inmates were
unemployed, grew up in single-parent homes,
were children of substance-abusing parents or
guardians or were sexually or physically
abused themselves.
     Reported drug use increased between the
two surveys--in 1989, 78 percent said they
had used drugs at least once in their lives,
compared to 82 percent in 1996.  Marijuana
use rose from 71 percent to 78 percent,
stimulants from 22 percent to 34 percent,
hallucinogens  (including LSD and PCP) from
24 percent to 32 percent, depressants
(including Quaaludes, barbiturates and 
tranquilizers without a doctor's 
prescription) from 21 percent to 30 percent
and heroin from 19 percent to 24 percent. 
Cocaine use was unchanged.  Half of the
inmates in both years said they had used
     An estimated 54 percent of those held in
local jails in 1996 had already been under
the jurisdiction of the criminal justice
system at the time they were arrested for
their current offense, about 32 percent had
been under probation supervision when
arrested, 13 percent had been on parole after
serving time and 13 percent had been on bail
or bond from a prior arrest when arrested for
a new crime.
     From 1989 through 1996, as the jail
population increased by an average 4.6
percent annually, the percentage charged with
violent crime increased from 23 percent to 26
percent, while the percent charged with drug
law violations remained largely unchanged at
about 22 percent of all persons held.
     During the same period, the percentage
of those held with prior sentences decreased
from about 77 percent in 1989 to 73 percent
in 1996.  Forty-four percent were in jail for
a violent offense or had prior convictions
for a violent offense.  Fourteen percent had
only current or past charges for drug
     At midyear 1997, the nation's jails held
567,079 inmates--up 43 percent from the
395,554  at midyear 1989.  Jails, unlike
prisons, are locally administered,
incarcerating unsentenced individuals and
people serving sentences of a year or less.
     Nearly 39 percent of all jail inmates as
children lived in families that had received
welfare or public housing assistance.  At the
time of their arrest, one in five inmates was
receiving government assistance--14 percent
on welfare, 7 percent on Social Security or
Supplemental Security Income and 3 percent on
unemployment, workers' or veterans'
     About 36 percent of the inmates said
they were unemployed before their most recent
arrest--20 percent were seeking work and 16
percent not looking.  Almost half reported
income of less than $600 a month during the
month before their arrest.
     Almost half of all inmates grew up in
single-family homes and about 12 percent had
lived in childhood homes without either
parent.  Almost a third said their parents or
guardians had abused alcohol or drugs. 
Nearly half said a family member had been in
jail or prison.  
     Almost 48 percent of female jail inmates
and 13 percent of male jail inmates report
having been sexually or physically abused at
least once in their lives.  Almost 27 percent
of the women and 3 percent of the men said
they had been rape victims.
     In 1996, 90 percent of the jail inmates
were male and 10 percent female.  Thirty-
seven percent were white, 41 percent black,
19 percent Hispanic and 3 percent were from
other races, including Asians, Pacific
Islanders, American Indians and Alaska
     The findings are based on hour-long
interviews conducted by the Bureau of 
the Census for BJS with a nationally
representative sample of more than 6,000
inmates from 431 jails.
     The special report, "Profile of Jail
Inmates 1996" (NCJ-164620) was written by BJS
Statistician Caroline Wolf Harlow.  Single
copies may be obtained from the BJS fax-
on-demand system by dialing 301/519-5550,
listening to the menu, and selecting document
number 111 or by calling the BJS Clearing-
house at 1-800/732-3277.

     The BJS Internet site is:

Additional criminal justice materials can be
obtained from the Office of Justice Programs
Internet homepage at:  

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After hours contact:  
Stu Smith at 301/983-9354 

mm 4/23/98
Date Published: April 26, 1998