Tuesday, November 09, 2004
"At the end of 2003, there were 1,470,045 men and women in state and federal prisons in the United States, the report found. In addition, counting those inmates in city and county jails and incarcerated juvenile offenders, the total number of Americans behind bars was 2,212,475 on Dec. 31 last year, the report said.
The report estimated that 44 percent of state and federal prisoners in 2003 were black, compared with 35 percent who were white, 19 percent who were Hispanic and 2 percent who were of other races. The numbers have changed little in the last decade.
Statistically, the number of women in prison is growing fast, rising 3.6 percent in 2003. But at a total of 101,179, they are just 6.9 percent of the prison population.
Alfred Blumstein, a criminologist at Carnegie Mellon University, said one of the most striking findings in the report was that almost 10 percent of all American black men ages 25 to 29 were in prison.
Such a high proportion of young black men behind bars not only has a strong impact on black families, Professor Blumstein said, but 'in many ways is self-defeating.' The criminal justice system is built on deterrence, with being sent to prison supposedly a stigma, he said. 'But it's tough to convey a sense of stigma when so many of your friends and neighbors are similarly stigmatized.'
In seeking to explain the paradox of a falling crime rate but a rising prison population, Mr. Beck pointed out that F.B.I. statistics showed that from 1994 to 2003 there was a 16 percent drop in arrests for violent crime, including a 36 percent decrease in arrests for murder and a 25 percent decrease in arrests for robbery.
But the tough new sentencing laws led to a growth in inmates being sent to prison, from 522,000 in 1995 to 615,400 in 2002, the report said.
Similarly, the report found that the average time served by prison inmates rose from 23 months in 1995 to 30 months in 2001. Among the new measures were mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which required inmates to serve a specified proportion of their time behind bars; truth-in-sentencing laws, which required an inmate to actually serve the time he was sentenced to; and a variety of three-strikes laws increasing the penalties for repeat offenders."