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Frequency and Characteristics of Prison Escapes in the United States: An Analysis of National Data

NCJ Number
Prison Journal: An International Forum on Incarceration and Alternative Sanctions Volume: 85 Issue: 3 Dated: September 2005 Pages: 270-291
Richard F. Culp
Date Published
September 2005
22 pages
This study explored the characteristics of prison escapes in the United States from 1988 through 1998.
Although prison escape raises public fear and causes greater scrutiny of the correctional system, there is a lack of cohesive data on prison escapes and official records on prison escape are simply not maintained on a standardized basis. Drawing on current national data on prison escapes, this article provides an analysis of the characteristics of prison escapes for the period 1988 through 1998. Data include a number of national annual criminal justice surveys drawn from the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data, as well as 88 newspaper accounts of prison escapes from 1997 to 1998. The analysis focused on estimating escape frequencies, captures, characteristics of escapees, methods of escape, violence against correctional staff, and escapee involvement in criminal activity following escape. Overall, the data indicate that approximately 3 percent of all inmates escape at some point during their prison term; annually, approximately 1.4 percent of the prison population escapes confinement. Most escapes (88.5 percent) occurred from minimum security facilities. The prison escape rate has been slowly declining even as the inmate population increases. The many interacting variables influencing prison escape suggest that a routine activities approach would be a useful perceptive for understanding the prison escape phenomenon. Tables, figures, references