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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Wyoming's prison population continues to increase but the rate of incarceration has been slowing in recent years, the Justice Department reports.

The study shows that Wyoming had the ninth-highest percentage increase in its prison population of any state from mid-2004 to mid-2005.

Wyoming's prison population increased by 5.4 percent from mid-2004 to mid-2005, the report states. There were 2,026 prisoners under state jurisdiction on June 30, 2005, up from 1,923 prisoners on the same date in 2004.

The 5.4-percent rate of increase is slower than in recent years. From 2003 to 2004, the state's prison population increased by 6.3 percent.

From 2002 to 2003, the number of inmates increased by 7.8 percent, the fourth-fastest increase in the nation at that time. State officials attributed that increase to rising property and drug crimes, particularly those involving methamphetamine, according to a report by the Casper Star-Tribune's Washington bureau.

The Wyoming Department of Corrections is working to expand its facilities to accommodate the increasing prison population and to allow the state to bring inmates who have been housed elsewhere on contract back to Wyoming.

The state plans to build a new prison in Torrington, but a bid for construction of the prison early this year far exceeded the state's budget. A Colorado construction firm submitted the only bid for the prison at $125.6 million, while the state had budgeted $84 million for the project.

Melinda Brazzale, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, said Wednesday that the State Building Commission, made up of the five statewide elected officials, has given the corrections department permission to seek out contractors for the prison project on a noncompetitive basis.

Brazzale said the corrections department hopes to be able to have a contract in place to build the Torrington prison by late this summer. She said the ultimate cost of the project remains uncertain but noted that the cost of building materials has gone up considerably since the original cost estimate.

In the most recent figures, from mid-2004 to mid-2005, Montana ranked highest among all states in the growth of its prison population at 7.9 percent, followed by South Dakota at 7.8 percent. Twelve states saw declines in their prison populations, led by Vermont, Idaho and New York.

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As of mid-2005, there were 2.2 million people incarcerated in the United States, of which two-thirds were in state and federal prison systems and the other third in local jails. Nationwide, the prison population grew 2.6 percent for the year, adding an average of 1,085 new inmates every week.

By mid-2005, one in every 136 U.S. residents was in prison or jail. Louisiana and Georgia led the nation in the percentage of incarcerated residents with more than 1 percent of their population in prison or jail. Wyoming had nearly 0.7 percent.

Maine and Minnesota had the lowest incarceration rates, with 0.3 percent or less of their residents incarcerated.

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