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US Prison Population now One in a Hundred

1st March 2008

More than one in 100 adult US citizens now in prison

ED PILKINGTON in New York

US: More than one in a 100 adult Americans are in prison, a higher rate of incarceration than at any time in US history that is pushing the budgets of several states to breaking point, a report warns.

The Pew Centre on the States, a Washington-based research body, reveals that in 2007 the inexorable rise in the prison population saw the US cross what it calls a "sobering threshold". The number of prisoners in federal and local jails grew to 2.3 million, out of the country's adult population of 229.8 million, which gives a ratio of one in 99 adults behind bars.

When that statistic is broken down for different demographic groups, the proportion is even more startling. One in nine black men aged 20 to 34 is incarcerated.

It has long been known that the US has the most prison-happy approach to crime control in the world. China, with a population far greater than America's, comes in second with 1.5 million prisoners, and Russia third with 890,000.

But by comparing the prison numbers to the adult population, as opposed to overall population, the Pew report has underlined the crisis that is facing the country's tough approach to law and order. The report notes that nationwide, more than half of offenders who are released from jail are back inside within three years, either for new crimes or for breaking the terms of their probation.

The report also puts much emphasis on the fiscal crisis that a growing number of states are facing as a result of the incarceration policy. Thirteen states now spend more than $1 billion each on what they call corrections.

Last year, all 50 states between them spent $44 billion on running their prisons - an increase from $10 billion 20 years ago. Though Texas last year gained the undesirable distinction of being top of the incarcerations league in terms of numbers, with about 172,000 inmates, California remains the biggest spender, with total costs rising to $9 billion.

The outpouring has forced the state's governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to slash other public services including schools with cuts that education leaders have warned could decimate the state's school system.

The report concludes that a "continual increase in our reliance on incarceration will pay declining dividends in crime prevention. Expanding prisons will accomplish less and cost more than it has in the past." -

© 2008 Guardian Service