The nation set a record for criminals jammed into overcrowded federal and state prisons last year.

But Utah's increase was among the lowest in the nation - only about half the national average. And Utah's prisons were among the nation's least crowded, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.It reported the number of prisoners in Utah state prisons increased 4.6 percent in 1990 - from 2,394 to 2,503. That rate was 15th lowest among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Nationally, the average increase was 8.2 percent in federal and state prisons.

The total reached 771,243 nationally - a new record.

"The 58,686 additional inmates added during 1990 (nationally) is equal to a need for about 1,100 new prison beds every week," said bureau director Steven D. Dillingham.

He added, "We estimate from what the prison authorities reported to us that prisons throughout the country were operating at 18 to 29 percent above their capacities."

But the bureau reported that Utah state prisons - after opening of a new prison in Gunnison - are filled at 86 percent of capacity. That is the second lowest in the nation. Only North Dakota is lower at 84 percent.

Only nine states report that their prisons have fewer prisoners than their designed capacity.

The report also said that Utah no longer had state prisoners in county jails because of state overcrowding. It reported that 91 state prisoners - or 3.8 percent all state prisoners in 1989 - had been kept in county jails.

The report also noted that since 1980, the nation's prison population has increased by almost 134 percent.

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(Additional information)

Population growth in state prisons

Prison population growth rates, 1990

1. Vermont 15.9%

2. Washington 15.4%

3. New Hampshire 15.1%

National average 8.2%

37. Utah 4.6%

49. Alaska -4.4%

50. Oregon -4.6%

51. D.C. -9.1%~