New Report Finds One Million Americans Incarcerated for Non-Violent Offenses 3/26/99

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Marc Brandl, [email protected]
A report released March 25th by the Justice Policy Institute entitled "America's One Million Nonviolent Prisoners" ( found some startling facts about whom America is imprisoning. According to the report, racial disparities in who gets incarcerated continues to grow while female prisoners continue to grow at the fastest rate. Increasingly those incarcerated are serving time for non-violent, primarily drug related offenses.

Vincent Schiraldi, who co-author of the report, spoke at a press conference today and told the reporters, "People think prisons are being built and sentencing laws are being passed to keep the Jack the Rippers of the world off the street, but increasingly, those prisons are being filled with 'the gang that couldn't shoot straight.'" Among some of the more eye-opening statistics the report finds is that the non-violent prison population in the US now exceeds the population of Wyoming and Alaska and three times the size of the violent and nonviolent prisoner populations of the entire European Union, which has a combined population 100 million people larger than the United States.

Minority communities continue to be the largest segment of the population locked up for nonviolent offenses. The report finds African Americans are incarcerated at eight times the rate of whites, and Hispanics at three and a half times the rate of whites. Because of the growing number of nonviolent inmates, the number of violent prisoners doing time has declined from 57% of the general prison population in 1978 to 47% in 1997. The report also analyzed the cost of incarceration and found America spent $24 billion dollars last year on the local, state and federal level incarcerating nonviolent offenders.

The report puts most of the blame for America having such a large jail population on mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), speaking at a press conference on disparities in sentencing guidelines for crack and powder cocaine stated, "Mandatory minimum sentences are one of the great ills of the criminal justice system. To take away judicial discretion is unfair and works against people on the receiving end of these sentences."

The report is the latest in a long line of studies done by the Justice Policy Institute studying the consequences of mass incarceration in the United States, and can be found online at

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Issue #84, 3/26/99 Announcements | New Report Finds One Million Americans Incarcerated for Non-Violent Offenses | IOM Findings Strengthen Administrative Challenge to Repeal Marijuana's Prohibitive Status | Alert: Support California Syringe Decriminalization Bill | American Pharmaceutical Association Adopts Syringe Deregulation Position | Vancouver Needle Exchange Study Clarifies Previous Study's Results | Newsbriefs | Editorial: Rolling Back the Tide
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