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U.S. Prison Population Jumps 3.7% to 2 Million; Increase of 700 Inmates Every Week

StoryJuly 30, 2003
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The rapid increase comes at a time when crime is decreasing and state budget deficits are soaring. We speak with the Justice Policy Institute’s Michael Blain.

A new Justice Department report finds that the U.S. prison population jumped by almost four percent last year meaning an increase of about 700 inmates every week.

The total U.S. prison and jail population is just over 2 million. One out of every 143 residents is behind bars. African American men between the ages of 20 and 39 accounted for about a third of all sentenced inmates.

Some experts say mandatory sentences, especially for nonviolent drug offenders, are a major reason inmate populations have risen for 30 years.

Others argue that tough sentencing laws, such as the ``three strikes’’ laws that can put repeat offenders behind bars for life, are a chief reason for the drop in crime.

The Justice Policy Institute warned against the rapid increase which comes at a time that crime is decreasing and state budget deficits are soaring.

A director at the Institute said, "As legislators are struggling to fund education, health care and stave off spending cuts, many are continuing to choose to pay for an expensive justice system that damages communities and does not produce safe, healthy neighborhoods."

  • Michael Blain, director of the Prisoners Justice Network and Soros Justice Fellow with the Justice Policy Institute. He was wrongfully imprisoned for 7 years in Virginia for robbery.

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