State and federal prison populations continue to grow to record levels, but the effect on the dropping crime rate is unclear, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics says inmates increased by 2.1 percent in the year ending June 30, 2004, to 1,494,216. In the previous 10 years, the nation’s prison population increased 42 percent. The total has increased every year since at least the late 1970s. The U.S. incarceration rate, 726 people per 100,000, is the world’s highest, says the Justice Policy Institute. Minnesota led the nation in incarceration growth with 13.2 percent, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Jonathan Turley, a professor at the George Washington University School of Law, said the prison growth stems from the elimination of parole for inmates and the lengthening of criminal sentences in many states in recent decades. Malcolm Young of The Sentencing Project, which advocates alternatives to prisons for less serious offenders, concedes the increasing inmate population has contributed to the recent drop in crime. He contends that effective drug treatment would work better than prison to reduce crime caused by low-level drug offenders. Criminologist Michael Jacobson of the Vera Institute of Justice does not believe there is a direct cause and effect between incarceration and crime rates.