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Sentencing: US Jail and Prison Population At All-Time High Again Last Year

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #539)
Drug War Issues

Every year, the US Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics releases its annual reports on Prison Inmates at Midyear and Jail Inmates at Midyear, and every year we write basically the same headline. The midyear 2007 reports, released last Friday afternoon, are no exception: Once again, the number of people behind bars in the United States is at an all-time high. And although the reports do not break down the offenses for which inmates are incarcerated, according to other recent BJS reports, drug law violators continue to account for roughly one-quarter of the US jail and prison population.

According to the reports, local jails held 780,581 inmates and state federal prisons held another 1,518,535, for a total of just under 2.3 million prisoners in America on June 29, 2007. On a per capita basis, that is 762 prisoners per 100,000 US residents, up from 648 per 100,000 in 2000. The US continues to maintain its position as the world's leading jailer, in both actual numbers and per capita.

And black men continue to be overrepresented in the prison figures. Blacks make up about 13% of the US population, but 35.5% of all prisoners, BJS reported. Nearly one out of 20 (4.6%) of black males were behind bars, a rate more than double that of Hispanic men (1.7%) and more than six times that of white men (0.7%).

While the perpetual upward trend in prisoners continued, the rate of growth slowed slightly last year. In the first six months of 2007, the number of jail and prison inmates climbed 1.6%, compared to 2.0% for the same period in 2006. The slowing in prison population growth was due largely to slower growth in the 10 states with the largest number of prisoners in 2000 -- Texas, California, Florida, New York, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana. Growth in those 10 states was 0.7% in 2007, down from 2.3% the previous year.

Growth in jail populations also slowed, from 2.5% in 2006 to 1.9% in 2007. This was the smallest annual rate of growth in the jail population since 2001 and the second smallest since 1981. Still, 13 million people were sent to jails in 2007, BJS reported.

Sentencing reforms adopted by some states in the past decade may be partly responsible for the slight slowing in the growth of the incarceration behemoth, but with the drug war percolating right along the overall trend remains upward. It is difficult to stop a freight train on a dime, let alone throw it into reverse.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


eco (not verified)

American Exception. Inmate Count in US Dwarfs Other Nations'.
New York Times.
Apr 22, 2008. Page 1, Section A, Front Page.

From the New York Times article:

Still, it is the length of sentences that truly distinguishes American prison policy. Indeed, the mere number of sentences imposed here would not place the United States at the top of the incarceration lists. If lists were compiled based on annual admissions to prison per capita, several European countries would outpace the United States. But American prison stays are much longer, so the total incarceration rate is higher. ... "Rises and falls in Canada's crime rate have closely paralleled America's for 40 years," Mr. Tonry wrote last year. "But its imprisonment rate has remained stable."

Fri, 06/13/2008 - 9:51pm Permalink
aahpat (not verified)

A public health concern.

Police and prisons have none of the medical skills needed to mitigate or treat disease yet America has spent hundreds of billions of dollars building prisons to fill with people afflicted with this unpopular disease.

As America's baby boom explodes into the high medical services demand of old age I have to wonder how much better off America would be had we spent that money building hospitals to cure addicts and be there for the aging of America rather than building all of those bottomless money pit prisons.

Police and prisons are not doctors and hospitals. We will never cure disease using the criminal justice system.

Sat, 06/14/2008 - 10:27am Permalink
aahpat (not verified)

(Or, the one and only real success of the war on drugs: Richard Nixon's Jim Crow subversion of the Voting Rights Act.)

"[President Nixon] emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to." H.R. Haldeman's diary according to former Wall Street Journal reporter Dan Baum in his book "Smoke and Mirrors".

The war on drugs was then and still is today that "system".

"Blacks make up about 13% of the US population, but 35.5% of all prisoners, BJS reported. Nearly one out of 20 (4.6%) of black males were behind bars, a rate more than double that of Hispanic men (1.7%) and more than six times that of white men (0.7%)."

That sure does trim the fat off any winning margin that Obama might assume in the black community. And, for me, answers why Obama feels the need to pander to the right-wing in America regarding drug war policy.

Legalized Racial Discrimination in America

Drug Busts=Jim Crow
Ira Glasser
(Former head of the ACLU and now president of the Drug Policy Alliance)

"The fact is, just as Jim Crow laws were a successor system to slavery, so drug prohibition has been a successor to Jim Crow laws in targeting blacks, removing them from civil society and then denying them the right to vote while using their bodies to enhance white political power. Drug prohibition is now the last significant instance of legalized racial discrimination in America.

That many liberals have been at best timid in opposing the drug war and at worst accomplices to its continued escalation is, in light of the racial politics of drug prohibition, a special outrage. It is also politically self-destructive, serving to keep in power white conservatives opposed to everything liberals stand for. Liberals especially, therefore, need to consider attacking the premises upon which this edifice of racial subjugation is based. If they do not, who will?"

Sat, 06/14/2008 - 10:37am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Does all this mean that the USA is no longer "the land of the FREE and the home of the brave"? . And the world knows it. The slippery slope into facism.

Sat, 06/14/2008 - 10:51am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Anyone who believes the US is a "free" republic where The Constitution is the "Supreme Law of the Land" must still believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, AND the Tooth Fairy. SAD!

USA = USURPATION States of Amerika; an unholy union of fully-militarized, quasi-totalitarian, oligarchic police states.

Sat, 06/14/2008 - 3:02pm Permalink
Giordano (not verified)

National calamities emerge when a religiously militant, authoritarian entity such as the drug warrior culture is funded by a government and is then made responsible for its own existence in ways that are virtually autonomous and which subvert due process.  The result is a kind of fascist mini-state within the larger body politic.

Robert O. Paxton characterized the fascist state as “a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”


Wed, 06/18/2008 - 3:35am Permalink

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