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US female arrest rate is growing, study says

WASHINGTON -- Women made up 7 percent of all inmates in state and federal prisons last year and accounted for nearly 1 in 4 arrests, the government reported yesterday.

A coauthor of a Bureau of Justice Statistics report, Paige Harrison, linked a marked increase in the rate of arrest for women to their increased participation in drug crimes, violent crimes, and fraud.

The number of women incarcerated in state and federal prisons in 2004 was up 4 percent compared with 2003, more than double the 1.8 percent increase for men, the study said. In 1995, women made up 6.1 percent of all inmates in those facilities.

''The number of incarcerated women has been growing . . . due in large part to sentencing policies in the war on drugs," The Sentencing Project, a group promoting alternatives to prison, said in a statement. The group said the number of drug offenders in prisons and jails has risen from 40,000 in 1980 to more than 450,000 today. According to FBI figures, law enforcement officers in 2004 made more arrests for drug violations than for any other offense -- about 1.7 million arrests, or 12.5 percent of all arrests.

Those sentenced for drug offenses made up 55 percent of federal inmates in 2003, the report said.

The total number of people incarcerated grew 1.9 percent in 2004 to 2,267,787 people. That figure includes federal and state prisoners, as well as 713,990 inmates held in local jails, 15,757 prisoners in US territorial prisons, 9,788 in immigration and customs facilities, 2,177 in military facilities, 1,826 in Indian Country jails, and 102,338 in juvenile facilities.

The country's state and federal prison population -- 1,421,911 -- grew 2.6 percent in 2004, compared with an average growth of 3.4 percent a year since 1995.

Growth last year in federal prison populations was 5.5 percent, outpacing overall prisoner growth but slipping from the 7.4 average annual growth in federal prison populations since 1995. The number of inmates in state prisons rose 1.8 percent, with about half that growth in Georgia, Florida, and California.

Harrison attributed some of the prison population rise to tougher sentencing policies implemented in the late 1990s. She said the average time served by prisoners today is seven months longer than it was in 1995.

The Sentencing Project said the continued rise in prisoners despite falling crime rates raises questions about the country's imprisonment system. The group said the incarceration rate -- 724 per 100,000 -- is 25 percent higher than that of any other nation.

''Policy makers would be wise to reconsider the wisdom of current sentencing and drug policies, both to avoid expensive incarceration costs and to invest in more productive prevention and treatment approaches to crime," Marc Mauer, the group's executive director, said in a statement.

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