The number of people under supervision in the criminal justice system rose to 7.2 million in 2006, the highest ever, costing states $45 billion as they go in and out of jails and prisons, says the Washington Post, citing a U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report. More than 2 million offenders were in jail or prison in 2006; another 4.2 million were on probation, and nearly 800,000 were on parole.
“There are a number of states that have talked about an early release of prisoners deemed non-threatening,” said Rebecca Blank of the Brookings Institution, a centrist think tank. “The problem just keeps getting bigger and bigger. You’re paying a lot of money here. You have to ask if some of these high mandatory minimum sentences make sense.” In 1980, 1.8 million people were in the system and $11 billion was spent on corrections. Defenders of the system argue that the rise in the prison population means that more dangerous criminals have been taken off the streets. “If you look at the fact that these are people who are committing a crime, creating a danger to the public, you can’t look at it as wrong,” said Scott Thorpe of the California District Attorneys Association. Tim Lynch of the libertarian Cato Institute, called the numbers “scandalous” and said states have resorted to “tinkering” to solve prison overcrowding.