USA continues to lead the world in imprisonment
- The wealthiest country on earth also leads the world in imprisonment of its
own citizens, both in proportion of its population and in absolute numbers.
Ironically, this country is also well known for boasting of its freedom.
The following article, attributed to Connie Cass of the Associated Press,
appeared on page A24 of the Friday, May 28, 2004 edition of the Arizona
1 OUT OF 75 U.S. MEN ARE BEHIND BARS, REPORT FINDS
Washington--America's inmate population grew by 2.9 percent last year, to
almost 2.1 million people, with one of every 75 men living in prison or jail.
The inmate population continued its rise despite a fall in the crime rate
and many states' efforts to reduce some sentences, especially for low-level
The report issued Thursday by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice
Statistics attributes much of the increase to get-tough policies enacted
during the 1980s and '90s, such as mandatory drug sentences, "three strikes
and you're out" laws for repeat offenders, and "truth in sentencing" laws
that restrict early releases.
Whether that's good or bad depends on who is asked.
"The prison system just grows like a weed in the yard," said Vincent
Schiraldi, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, which pushes
for a more lenient system.
Without reforms, Schiraldi said, prison populations will continue to grow
"almost as if they are on autopilot, regardless of their high costs and
disappointing crime-control impact."
But attorney-general John Ashcroft said the report shows the success of
efforts to take hard-core criminals off the streets.
"It iss no accident that violent crime is at a 30-year low while prison
population is up," Ashcroft said. "Violent and recidivist criminals are
getting tough sentences while law-abiding Americans are enjoying unprecedented
There were 715 inmates for every 100,000 U.S. residents at midyear in 2003,
the report found. The nation's incarceration rate tops the world, according
to the Sentencing Project, another group that promotes alternatives to
prison. That compares with a rate of 169 per 100,000 residents in Mexico,
116 in Canada and 143 in England and Wales.
Russia's prison population, which once rivaled the United States', has
dropped to 584 per 100,000 because of prisoner amnesties in recent years,
the group said.
The U.S. inmate population in 2003 grew at its fastest pace in four years.
The number of inmates increased 1.8 percent in state prisons, 7.1 percent
in federal prisons and 3.9 percent in local jails.
In 2003, 68 percent of prison and jail inmates were members of racial or
ethnic minorities, the government said. An estimated 12 percent of all
Black men in their 20s were in jails or prisons, as were 3.7 percent of
Hispanic men and 1.6 percent of Anglo men in that age group, according to
The report also said:
The number of women in state and federal prisons grew by 5 percent, compared
with a 2.7 percent increase for men. Still, men greatly outnumber women:
1.36 million to 100,102.
The inmate population in 10 states increased at least 5 percent.
Only nine states logged a decrease in prison population.
"I have an acquaintance from Fallujah. He tells me, 'The good thing we have
that you don't in Baghdad is that you do not see any American soldiers on our
streets. We do not allow that in Fallujah.'"
--Hussein al-Musawi, quoted on p. A20, 4/3/04 edition The Arizona Republic