Federal Prisons:

Trends in Offender Characteristics

PEMD-90-4FS: Published: Oct 27, 1989. Publicly Released: Nov 27, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information about the number and characteristics of offenders sentenced to incarceration in federal penal institutions.

GAO found that: (1) about 44 percent of federal prison inmates were sentenced for drug law violations, while 23 percent were convicted of violent crimes; (2) the drug offender population increased by 31 percent between 1986 and 1988, while the other offender populations increased by about 5 percent; (3) the increase in drug offenders accounted for 79 percent of the increase in sentencings to federal prisons between 1986 and 1988; (4) about 44 percent of all inmates had not been sentenced to prison before, with 60 percent of drug law violators, 20 percent of violent offenders, and 30 percent of property offenders having no prior convictions; (5) most federal prison inmates had no record of violence; (6) moderate offenses replaced serious offenses as the largest proportion of drug offenses for which individuals were sentenced; and (7) the steady increase in the number of moderate and lengthy sentences for drug offenders suggests that the prison population will continue to increase.

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