Incarceration versus Education, Housing, Jobs
U.S. Prison Population Tops 2 Million
Politicians are shoveling taxpayer money at prisons. How does that stack up against your own priorities?
Here is a new announcement from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.
The number of inmates in American prisons topped 2 million for the first time, the Justice Department reports.
California, Texas, Florida and New York were the four biggest state prison systems, mirroring their status as the most populous states. However nine states -- including Texas, California, New York and Illinois -- saw their inmate populations drop compared with the year before as prison releases outpaced admissions.
The federal government accounted for more inmates than any state, with nearly 162,000, according to a report Sunday by the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics. That number includes the transfer of about 8,900 District of Columbia prisoners to the federal system.
The record prison population figures were driven by get-tough policies that mandate long terms for drug offenders and other criminals.
Some states modified parole rules to deal with steep budget shortfalls, leading to an overall growth rate in state prison populations of just under 1 percent from June 2001 to June 2002. The federal prison population grew by 5.7 percent.
The total inmate population on June 30, 2002, was 2.1 million, an increase of 2.8 percent from the year before. Two-thirds were in federal or state prisons, with the other third held in jails, the report said.
The report did not count all juvenile offenders, which if included in the past would have driven the nation's inmate population over the 2 million mark years ago. But the report did note that there were more than 10,000 inmates under age 18 held in adult prisons and jails last year.
Malcolm Young, executive director of The Sentencing Project, said the increase continues a prison growth trend stemming from tough penalties meted out to drug abusers and traffickers as well as ``three strikes'' laws that can mandate life sentences for repeat offenders.
``It's part of the get-tough scheme. It's been going on for 30 years,'' said Young, whose organization advocates alternatives to incarceration, such as special drug courts and treatment programs.
This is especially true at the federal level, where efforts to reduce sentences for such crimes as crack cocaine trafficking -- far higher than sentences for dealing in powder cocaine -- have failed in Congress.
The Supreme Court this month upheld California's ``three strikes'' law even though the defendant's final crime involved theft of golf clubs. Attorney General John Ashcroft has pushed for tougher prison sentences, including a recent directive barring many people convicted of white-collar and nonviolent crimes from doing their time in halfway houses.
The report's other findings:
--The incarceration rate, counting state and federal prisoners sentenced to more than one year, was 474 for every 100,000 U.S. residents, compared with 472 the year before. That means 1 in every 142 U.S. residents was in prison or jail in mid-2002.
--Jails supervised about 738,000 people in June 2002, compared with about 702,000 a year earlier. Many people in jails are awaiting trials or transfer to other facilities, while some serve short sentences there or are housed there because of state prison overcrowding.
--More than 72,400 jail inmates were supervised under programs such as drug treatment, electronic monitoring, community service or home detention.
--About 12 percent of all black men in the United States aged 20 to 39 were in prison or jail, by far the highest single group. In contrast, 4 percent of Hispanic males and 1.6 percent of white males in that age group were incarcerated.
--The number of women in federal and state prisons topped 96,000, an increase of 1.9 percent from 2001. Men in these prisons totaled 1.3 million, up about 1.4 percent, and men also total about 88 percent of jail populations on a given day.
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It's not good news when 2,000,000 Americans are being held captive by governments. What's your opinion on the government's priorities? How important is expanding imprisonment of nonviolent offenders, compared to other possible uses of taxpayer money (or simply lower taxes)? Tell your views to The Progress Report:
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