America’s Prison, Jail Populations Up 2.9 Percent


Inmate population in the U.S. grew 2.9 percent last year, to almost 2.1 million, with one of every 75 men living in prison or jail, the Associated Press reports. The U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics attributes much of the increase to get-tough policies enacted during the 1980s and ’90s, including mandatory drug sentences, “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” laws for repeat offenders, and “truth-in-sentencing” laws that restrict early releases.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said the report shows the success of efforts to take hard-core criminals off the streets. “It is no accident that violent crime is at a 30-year low while prison population is up,” he said. “Violent and recidivist criminals are getting tough sentences while law-abiding Americans are enjoying unprecedented safety.” Vincent Schiraldi of the Justice Policy Institute said prison populations are continuing to grow “almost as if they are on autopilot, regardless of their high costs and disappointing crime-control impact.” There were 715 inmates for every 100,000 U.S. residents at midyear in 2003, up from 703 a year earlier. The U.S. incarceration rate tops the world, says The Sentencing Project, which promotes alternatives to prison. That compares with a rate of 169 per 100,000 residents in Mexico, 116 in Canada and 143 for England and Wales.


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