Characteristics of Prison Inmates


The United States holds the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with approximately 2.3 million people held behind bars in 2010. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) collects and analyzes data on the characteristics of inmates through administrative data and inmate self reports. The BJS publishes characteristics on race, age, gender, etc. on inmates every year.


  • Across the United States in 2009, there were 246,700 prison inmates between the ages of 25 and 29 years old, according to the BJS. They made up the largest portion of incarcerated individuals in an age range. The second largest age spectrum of those who were incarcerated were 30 to 34 years old, with an inmate population of 239,900. Only 16,100 people between the age of 65 and older were incarcerated - the smallest age grouping.


  • Statistically, whites, blacks and Hispanics make up the largest race divisions of incarcerated individuals in the United States. In 2009, 479,000 white men, 563,500 black men and 303,500 Hispanic men were incarcerated. In contrast, 51,200 white women, 28,200 black women and 17,500 Hispanic women were incarcerated.

Education and Poverty Level

  • Education and poverty levels are nationally recognized as linked to incarceration rates. In 1991, more than half of all state incarcerated prisoners reported an annual income of less than $10,000 prior to their arrest, according to the BJS. At that time, approximately 80 percent of all men of working age reported themselves as working full time. That figure contrasts sharply to the only 55 percent of state prison inmates working full-time at the time of their arrest. Across the nation, only 33 percent of prisoners completed high school. The Florida Department of Corrections tested their inmates on average at around a 6th grade level in 2007.

Types of Offenses

  • Sentencing to incarceration can occur from a variety of charges, such as violent offenses (rape, murder, manslaughter, sexual assault, robbery, assault, etc.), property offenses (burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, fraud, other property, etc.), public order offenses or drug offenses. In 2006, 693,400 people were in prison for violent offenses, 258,200 for property offenses, 264,300 for drug offenses and 101,300 for public order offenses.


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