Prisons: US Inmate Population Continues to Swell, Now at 2.1 Million 4/29/05

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The US prison system grew by about 900 prisoners a week between June 2003 and June 2004, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported this week. With an additional 48,000 inmates, the US prison population is growing at an annual rate of 2.3% and now tops 2.1 million, the agency reported.

Southern Correctional Institution, Troy, NC
Although the crime rate has been in a free fall for the past decade, people are being sent to prison faster than they are being released, said the report's co-author, Paige Harrison. Last year, the number of new admissions to prison exceeded the number of releases by more than 8,000, the study found.

According to Harrison, the ever-increasing prison population is attributable to "get tough" sentencing policies enacted in the 1980s and 1990s. Among the policies cited by Harrison were mandatory minimum drug sentences, three-strikes laws, and "truth in sentencing" laws that get rid of parole. "As a whole most of these policies remain in place," she said. "These policies were a reaction to the rise in crime in the '80s and early 90s."

Among other findings:

  • With 726 prisoners per 100,000 residents, the United States imprisons people at a rate nearly 10 times that of other democracies.
  • 12.6% of all black men in their late twenties were behind bars, compared to 3.6% for Hispanic males and 1.7% for whites.
  • Women remain the fastest growing segment of the prison population, increasing by more than 2.9% to 103,000. Twenty-five years ago, there were 12,000 women prisoners in the US.
  • Three prisons systems -- the federal, Texas, and California -- hold over 100,000 prisoners each, with the feds in the lead at 179,000, Texas at 166,000, and California at 166,000. Driven largely by drug offenders, the federal prison population continues to grow at a rate more than twice that of the states.

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Issue #384 -- 4/29/05

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