A New Record in Prison Nation

Prison Nation set a new record. It is a record in which we should take no pride.

A record 7 million people - or one in every 32 American adults - were behind bars, on probation or on parole by the end of last year, according to the Justice Department. Of those, 2.2 million were in prison or jail, an increase of 2.7 percent over the previous year, according to a report released Wednesday.

More than 4.1 million people were on probation and 784,208 were on parole at the end of 2005. Prison releases are increasing, but admissions are increasing more.

Drug offenders accounted for 49 percent of the growth in the federal prison population from 1995 to 2003.

Women are increasingly fueling the prison industry.

Men still far outnumber women in prisons and jails, but the female population is growing faster. Over the past year, the female population in state or federal prison increased 2.6 percent while the number of male inmates rose 1.9 percent. By year's end, 7 percent of all inmates were women. ...

"Today's figures fail to capture incarceration's impact on the thousands of children left behind by mothers in prison," Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based group supporting criminal justice reform, said in a statement. "Misguided policies that create harsher sentences for nonviolent drug offenses are disproportionately responsible for the increasing rates of women in prisons and jails."

As always, offenders who aren't white are disproportionately serving time.

In the 25-29 age group, 8.1 percent of black men - about one in 13 - are incarcerated, compared with 2.6 percent of Hispanic men and 1.1 percent of white men. And it's not much different among women. By the end of 2005, black women were more than twice as likely as Hispanics and over three times as likely as white women to be in prison.

Will the new Democratic majority take a serious look at alternatives to the failed "lock 'em up" policies of the last quarter century? If only.

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