Silver Rights

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Thursday, May 27, 2004  

News: One in 75 American men an inmate

The U.S. Justice Department reports that this country, which has long had the highest population of prisoners in the world, increased the number of people behind bars by 2.3 percent in 2003. Now, one in 75 American men is incarcerated in a prison or jail. The Associated Press has the story.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- America's prison population grew by 2.9 percent last year, to almost 2.1 million inmates, 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 drug offenders.

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.

Attorney General John Ashcroft says that the huge prison population consists of hard-core prisoners. But, most research on the topic suggests otherwise. The most common reason for longterm imprisonment in the United States is drug offenses -- not aggravated assaults or homicides.

Inmates are usually male, though incarceration rates for women have increased during the last decades. Prisoners are disproportionately young and members of minority groups.

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 white men in that age group, according to the report.

Experts say the most telling criterion for crime rates is the proportion of young males in the population.

An important issue the data does not shed light on is whether high incarceration rates for minorities is evidence of higher rates of crime, a discriminatory criminal justice system, or a combination of the two. Some researchers believe the latter is a more accurate conclusion in regard to drug crimes.

posted by J. | 7:18 PM