We now have added "Informational Posts" which are tidbits of information that may come in handy at some point.

Survey of State Prison Inmates, 1991

March 1993, NCJ-136949

The Survey of Inmates in State Correctional Facilities informs the Nation on a wide array of criminal justice issues

For the first time in a national survey, Inmates responded to questions about owning and using guns, gang membership, HIV testing, and entering prison pregnant In the summer of 1991,13,986 inmates answered questions in face-to-face interviews. The prisoners, a scientific sample for the Nation, represented more than 711,000 adults held in State correctional facilities. In a session lasting from several minutes to more than an hour, each inmate described his or her criminal history, family and employment background, and any involvement with drugs and alcohol. Each inmate also reported on participation in correctional programs and past education. Inmates convicted of a violent crime were asked about their victim.

After the last such survey in 1986, the prison population had grown 58%, more than 261,000 additional prisoners. In 1991 the incarceration rate ¾ the number sentenced to more than a year in State facilities for each 100,000 residents in the general population ¾ was about 287 per 100,000; 5 years earlier, the rate was 207 prisoners per 100,000 residents.

Simultaneous with the State inmate survey, a Federal prison survey interviewed 8,500 inmates Together the Federal and State studies provide the most comprehensive information on the Nation's prisoners ever obtained. Used alone or analyzed together with the three previous surveys of State prison inmates conducted in 1974, 1979, and 1986, these 1991 data serve many purposes.

As national data they provide a benchmark against which States may compare their prison populations, perhaps to judge the results of particular policies. State prison authorities may also use the surveys as a source for a uniform set of measures and descriptors.

The potential benefits of national data will touch a large number of crucial topics
Persons seeking to understand the factors that contribute to or prevent crime have in these data a readily available wealth of background and empirical evidence that can bear close scrutiny. When considered with other survey findings or population studies, the data garnered by the surveys of inmates will enable scholars, policymakers, and practitioners to test many assertions and conclusions.

The following are examples of issues that can be examined using data from the 1991 survey:

Relationships among demographic and criminal justice characteristics of State inmates

Responses by the criminal justice system to young offenders and the later patterns of offending

Prison sentences and time served as related to turnover of prison population

Identifying patterns of offending for high-risk offenders in prison

Generational or cohort aspects of criminal careers, types of crimes committed, and the responses of the criminal justice system

Violent crime events understood in terms of time, place, persons involved, and outcome

Family history as a factor in criminal history of serious offenders in State prison

Gang membership as an aggravating element in crime

Roles of drug and alcohol use in crime and in the criminal histories of offenders

Statistical descriptions of firearm possession, handgun use in a crime, and sources of handguns, for both violent and nonviolent inmates.

Experienced personnel of the Bureau of the Census conducted the confidential interviews

Working on behalf of the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), trained Bureau of the Census interviewers conducted the interviews in 277 prisons nationwide. At each institution, inmates were chosen systematically from the day's roster, with a specific "take rate" or selection probability being applied. Many of the interviewers who conducted the 1991 interviews had also staffed the previous surveys, and many had participated in the 1989 survey of local jail inmates.

The interviewers met the prisoners alone, often in rooms out of the sight, as well as beyond the hearing of correctional officers and other inmates. The inmates received written and verbal guarantees that the information they reported would be kept confidential. They were told that they would be neither compelled to participate nor rewarded for participating. If inmates could not speak English, they could bring other inmates to translate or could request an interviewer who spoke their language. Altogether, 94% of the selected inmates were interviewed.

Information gained through interviews with prisoners is generally reliable

Personal interviewing of prisoners is the most efficient means ¾ and for some information, the only means ¾ to gather certain data with a national scope. Independent researchers, studying how truthfully prison inmates respond to survey questions, have found that the responses generally agree with data from official records. Also, findings aggregated from the inmate surveys do not differ appreciably from information reported by correctional authorities, and information from separate surveys fit coherent and consistent patterns.

Just as is true of respondents to other surveys, inmates may sometimes have forgotten or confused details like dates and sequences of events. Heavy drug or alcohol use and limited educational or intellectual attainment may have distorted some answers in a long questionnaire. The survey findings represent the reports of a sample of State prison inmates only and should not be generalized to the entire offender population. Inmates in State prisons account for about 17% of the total adult correctional population. These inmates have usually committed the most serious offenses or have the most extensive criminal records.

For the remainder of this study: by Allen Beck, Darrell Gilliard, Lawrence Greenfeld, Caroline Harlow, Thomas Hester, Louis Jankowski, Tracy Snell, James Stephan, BJS Statisticians, Danielle Morton, BJS Statistician Assistant

eAdvocate note: To understand why and how this study relates to sex offenders you need to go through the study to find many references to "rape" and "other sexual" crimes. For the most part both are considered "violent crimes" and that section is most relevant.

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