August is usually quiet in official Washington, with Congress out of session and everyone who can leave town having done so, but the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has been crunching numbers and cranking out reports on a near weekly basis this month. In its latest report, released Sunday, BJS announced that that nation's combined federal, state and local adult correctional population reached a new high of almost 6.5 million men and women in 2000, having grown by 126,400 during the past year. That means that 3.1% of the total adult population of the United States, or one in every 32 adults, is either in prison or jail, on parole or on probation.

On December 31, 2000, there were 3,839,532 men and women on probation, 725,527 on parole, 1,312,354 in prison and 621,149 in local jails. The figure represents a 2% increase over 1999 and a whopping 49% increase since 1990. But the increase last year was only half the average rate of increase for the decade as whole. Combined with a similar leveling-off in the prison population (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/199.html#prisonstats), the figures suggest that the country's decades-long incarceration binge may have reached a plateau.

"This could be the beginning of a peak," James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University in Boston, told the Associated Press.

With about one-third of those under correctional

August is usually quiet in official Washington, with Congress out of session and everyone who can leave town having done so, but the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has been crunching numbers and cranking out reports on a near weekly basis this month. In its latest report, released Sunday, BJS announced that that nation's combined federal, state and local adult correctional population reached a new high of almost 6.5 million men and women in 2000, having grown by 126,400 during the past year. That means that 3.1% of the total adult population of the United States, or one in every 32 adults, is either in prison or jail, on parole or on probation.

On December 31, 2000, there were 3,839,532 men and women on probation, 725,527 on parole, 1,312,354 in prison and 621,149 in local jails. The figure represents a 2% increase over 1999 and a whopping 49% increase since 1990. But the increase last year was only half the average rate of increase for the decade as whole. Combined with a similar leveling-off in the prison population (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/199.html#prisonstats), the figures suggest that the country's decades-long incarceration binge may have reached a plateau.

"This could be the beginning of a peak," James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University in Boston, told the Associated Press.

With about one-third of those under correctional supervision behind bars, some 4.6 million persons are on either probation or parole. While the BJS figures do not provide a breakdown by criminal offense, they do note that among probationers, drug offenses are the most common charge. Drug offenders make up 24% of persons on probation, with drunk driving infractions coming in second with 18%.

More people are out on parole now than ever before -- some 725,000, up 36% since 1990 -- but not because parole boards have become more lenient. In fact, the percentage of parolees released because of parole board action declined over the past decade, from 59% to 37%, BJS said. The rest were automatically paroled after serving a portion of their sentences, as mandated by various state laws. Instead, the increase in parolees can be attributed to the overall growth in the number of prisoners in recent years. The increase in parolees is even more striking when set against the number of states with large declines in parolees because of "truth in sentencing" laws that have done away with parole. States with large declines in parolees include Massachusetts (-20.0%), Rhode Island (-11.1%), Kansas (-35.6%), Nebraska (-16.7%), North Dakota (-23.7%), North Carolina (-23.7%), Virginia (-12.2%), and Washington (-20.0%).

Parole population gains of 10 percent or more were reported in 14 states and the District of Columbia, BJS said. Connecticut and Arkansas led with a 22% increase in their parole populations in 2000, followed by Vermont and Oklahoma (both up 20%).

Racial disparities in criminal justice show up in probation and parole patterns. Blacks continue to be over-represented among parolees and probationers, constituting 40% of the former and a third of the latter. Interestingly, the over-representation of African-Americans under state control is least for probation, the least serious criminal justice sanction.

Georgetown University law professor David Cole, author of "No Equal Justice," told the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour this week that race and drug policy issues fueled the increase in the supervised population. "The drug war has driven this increase," he said. "It is driven by a lot of political rhetoric and by the fact that the costs are not borne by the white majority, the folks who vote in all those 'three-strikes' laws. The costs are being borne disproportionately by blacks and Hispanics. If you saw the incarceration rate among whites where it is among blacks, the politics of crime would be very different. You'd be seeing calls for child care, education, prevention, not more prisons.

"We have an incarceration rate five times higher than our nearest European competitor," Cole said. "This raises serious questions about the meaning of freedom if the country that calls itself the leader of the free world is the leader of the incarcerated world."

(Visit http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/ppus00.htm to read the BJS report online.)

-- END --
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Issue #201, 8/31/01 Editorial: The Big Bully | Plan Colombia Sparks Legalization Groundswell as US Weighs Formal Intervention in Guerrilla War | Justice Department Reports One in 32 Americans Under Correctional Supervision | DRCNet Interview: Kenny "The Real" Kramer of Seinfeld Fame, Libertarian Candidate for Mayor of New York City | Fight For Your Right to Wave Glow Sticks: ACLU Wins Victory in New Orleans Rave Case | Germany Takes Next Step: Heroin Maintenance Trial to Start in February | Poll Finds Support for Marijuana Legalization at Record Level, Though Still a Minority View | US Drug Reformers Head to UN Racism Conference, Letter Asks Secretary General Annan to Put Drug War on Agenda | UN Conventions Need Not Pose Obstacle to Drug Law Reform, European Study Says | Canada's Conservative Fraser Institute Declares Drug War Lost | T-shirts for Victory! Special Offer and Appeal from DRCNet This Month | Action Alerts: Ecstasy Bill, HEA, Mandatory Minimums, Medical Marijuana, John Walters | HEA Campaign Still Seeking Student Victim Cases -- New York Metropolitan Area Especially Urgent | The Reformer's Calendar
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