DOJ Study Reports Incarceration Reaches Record Numbers

Published: November 30, 2006

WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice reported Nov. 30 that in the year ending December 31, 2005, the U.S. prison and jail population increased to 2,193,798 people. This continues an unprecedented rise in the incarcerated population, which began more than three decades ago. A companion DOJ report also released Nov. 30 found that the U.S. correctional population, which includes people on probation and parole, topped 7 million for the first time.

According to The Sentencing Project, for the first time ever, the number of incarcerated women has surpassed 200,000. The rate of increase in women’s incarceration is nearly double that for men since the 1980s.

“Today’s figures fail to capture incarceration’s impact on the thousands of children left behind by mothers in prison,” said Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project. “Misguided policies that create harsher sentences for non-violent drug offenses are disproportionately responsible for the increasing rates of women in prisons and jails.”

The Sentencing Project’s analysis of the Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics report, “Prisoners in 2005,” also reveals the following:

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U.S. World Leader in Incarceration

The United States now incarcerates its citizens at a rate 5 to 8 times that of most industrialized nations. The U.S. incarceration rate of 737 per 100,000 people is the highest ever recorded, outpacing the next highest rates of 611 for Russia and 547 for St. Kitts and Nevis. Rates in other Western nations include: United Kingdom – 148; Canada – 107; Germany – 95; and France – 85.

Extensive Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Incarceration

African-American males are incarcerated at more than six times the rate of white males, and Hispanic males more than double the rate. Black females are incarcerated at three times the rate of white females, and Hispanic females at nearly double the rate.

Racial disparities in incarceration vary broadly among the states. In seven states, African-Americans are incarcerated at more than 10 times the rate of whites. These states are:

Iowa – 13.6; Vermont – 12.5; New Jersey – 12.4; Connecticut – 12.0; Wisconsin – 10.7; North Dakota – 10.1; and South Dakota – 10.0.

In addition, the lowest rate of incarceration among blacks (851 in Hawaii) is greater than that of the highest white rate (740 in Oklahoma).

Despite the decline in crime since 1992, the country has experienced an unprecedented increase in the use of incarceration. Analysis finds that three-quarters of the current decline in crime can be attributed to multiple factors other than incarceration. One study estimates that 30 percent of the falling crime rate could be explained by growing job opportunities for low-wage workers. Additional research credits strategic policing tactics. In San Diego, effective community policing contributed to a 40 percent decline in crime during the early 1990s.

Jurisdictions that have invested heavily in incarceration have not necessarily produced significant gains in crime control. Idaho, despite leading the nation with a 174 percent increase in its prison population from 1992-2002, experienced a 14 percent increase in its crime rate during that period. Conversely, New York City lowered its homicide rate by two-thirds since the early 1990s despite a one-third decline in its jail population.

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Sentencing Project press release

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