Monday, April 25, 2005

Jails, jails, jails

Check it out... the U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration!

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Nation's Inmate Population Increased 2.3 Percent Last Year
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Published: April 25, 2005

WASHINGTON, April 24 (AP) - The nation's prisons and jails held 2.1 million people in mid-2004, 2.3 percent more than the year before, the government reported on Sunday.

The inmate population increased by slightly more than 48,000 from mid-2003 to mid-2004, a growth of about 900 inmates each week, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The total inmate population has hovered around two million for the last few years: It was 2.1 million on June 30, 2002, and just below that mark a year later.

While the crime rate has fallen over the last decade, the number of people going to prison and jail is outpacing the number of inmates released, said an author of the report, Paige M. Harrison.

Ms. Harrison said the increase could be largely attributed to get-tough policies enacted in the 1980's and 1990's. Among them are mandatory sentences for drug crimes, "three strikes and you're out" laws for repeat offenders and "truth in sentencing" laws that restrict early releases.

"As a whole, most of these policies remain in place," Ms. Harrison said. "These policies were a reaction to the rise in crime in the 80's and early 90's."

Malcolm Young, executive director of the Sentencing Project, which promotes alternatives to prison, said, "We're working under the burden of laws and practices that have developed over 30 years that have focused on punishment and prison as our primary response to crime."

Mr. Young said many of those incarcerated were not serious or violent offenders, but low-level drug offenders. He said ways to help lower that number included introducing drug treatment programs that offer effective ways of changing behavior and providing appropriate assistance for the mentally ill.

The Justice Policy Institute, which advocates a more lenient system of punishment than incarceration, said the United States had the highest rate of incarceration in the world, followed by Britain, China, France, Japan and Nigeria.

According to the government's report, there were 726 inmates for every 100,000 United States residents on June 30, 2004, compared with 716 a year earlier. Put another way, in 2004, one in every 138 residents was in prison or jail; the previous year it was one in every 140.

In 2004, nearly 60 percent of prison and jail inmates were racial or ethnic minorities, the report said. An estimated 12.6 percent of all black men age 25 to 29 were in jails or prisons, compared with 3.6 percent of Hispanic men and 1.7 percent of white men in that age group, the report said.

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