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Ppic Report on Cdc Population 2006

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CALIFORNIA’S CHANGING
PRISON POPULATION
August 2006
The California state prison population has grown rapidly in the past 15 years.
Since 1990, the prison population has increased by 73 percent – nearly three times faster than the general adult
population. California prisons currently hold about 171,000 adults; approximately 616 per 100,000 adults in
California are in state prison. California ranks 17th among all states for incarceration rates.
The prison population is aging.
In 1990, 20 percent of prisoners were under age 25; by 2005, only 14 percent were under age 25. During this
same period, the share of prisoners age 50 and older grew from 4 percent to 11 percent.
Women represent only a small share of the prison population (7%), and they differ significantly from
men across several important measures.
A majority of men are imprisoned for violence (52%), whereas women most often serve time for property
crimes (36%) and drugs (30%). Two-thirds of women in prison are mothers of children younger than age 18;
half lived with their children at the time of their arrest. Among male prisoners, half are fathers of children
younger than 18, and 42 percent were living with their children at the time of their arrest.
Most prisoners are nonwhite. African Americans and Latinos are overrepresented in prison.
Over half of the general adult male population is nonwhite. But three of every four men in prison are nonwhite:
38% are Latino, 29% are African American, and 6% are of another race or ethnicity (Figure 1). Seventeen
percent of prisoners are foreign-born; incarceration rates are much lower for foreign-born adults (297 per
100,000) than for U.S.-born adults (813 per 100,000).
African Americans have a dramatically higher probability than other groups of being imprisoned.
Among adult men in 2005, African Americans were incarcerated at a rate of 5,125 per 100,000 in the
population, compared to 1,142 for Latinos, 770 for whites, and 474 for men of other races. Among women,
African Americans were incarcerated at a rate of 346 per 100,000 in the population, compared to 62 for Latinas,
80 for whites, and 27 for women of other races.
Inland and poorer areas of the state contribute disproportionately to the prison population.
The San Joaquin Valley, the Inland Empire, and the Far North regions of the state have the highest incarceration
rates, at 865, 835, and 791 per 100,000 residents, respectively. Wealthier coastal regions have much lower
rates: 357 for the Bay Area and 386 for the South Coast (Orange and Ventura Counties).
A majority of prisoners (just over 50%) are serving time for violent crimes.
Due in part to Proposition 36, which mandates drug treatment instead of incarceration for some drug felons, the
number of prisoners serving time for drug offenses has dropped since the passage of the proposition in 2000.
Meanwhile, the number of those incarcerated for violent crimes has continued to rise steadily over the past 15
years, so that violent criminals now constitute a majority of the prison population (see Figure 2).
Most prisoners serve determinate sentences, but the number of “strikers” is growing.
Fifty-nine percent of prisoners are serving determinate sentences, 12 percent are serving an indeterminate life
sentence, and 2 percent are serving life without parole. Fourteen women and 638 men (0.4 %) are on death
row. Since 1994, increasing numbers of prisoners have been sentenced under the Three Strikes law – currently,
5 percent are “third strikers,” serving 25 years to life, while 21 percent are “second strikers,” serving double the
normal sentence for a second felony conviction.
The prison population experiences frequent turnover.
Every year, approximately 120,000 prisoners are admitted into the system, and a similar number are released.
A growing majority of admissions are returns to prison for new crimes or parole violations, as opposed to new
admissions – 67 percent were return admissions in 2004, compared to 59 percent in 1990. High recidivism
rates present serious concerns for many communities, including the prospects for prisoner re-entry, the stability
of family life, and public health.
Public Policy Institute of California

415-291-4400

www.ppic.org

Figure 1
Percentage of Adults in Prison and in the General Population, by Race/Ethnicity
and Gender, 2005
Latino
100%
90%
80%
70%
60%
50%
40%
30%
20%
10%
0%

6

African American

White
5

14

27

Other

16

39
44

44

29
7
38

35

Male Prisoners

California Adult
Males

29

7

28

34

Female Prisoners

California Adults
Females

Sources: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and Department of Finance data, 2005.

Figure 2
Change in Offense Type, 1990-2005
90,000
80,000
70,000
Prisoners

60,000
Violent Crimes
Property Crimes
Drug Crimes
Other Crimes

50,000
40,000
30,000
20,000
10,000

19
90
19
91
19
92
19
93
19
94
19
95
19
96
19
97
19
98
19
99
20
00
20
01
20
02
20
03
20
04
20
05

0

Source: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation data, 2005.

Public Policy Institute of California

415-291-4400

www.ppic.org

 

 

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