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Who's Who In U.S. Prisons|
WASHINGTON, July 31, 2002
(CBS) The U.S. inmate population in 2001 rose at the slowest pace in almost 30 years, with blacks still far more likely to be incarcerated than whites or Hispanics.
That's according to statistics released Tuesday by the Justice Department, which says that for every 100,000 people in the United States, 3,535 blacks were locked up, compared with 462 whites and 1,177 Hispanics.
One in 10 black men between the ages of 25 and 29 were incarcerated in state or federal prison at the end of 2001, while only 2.9 percent of Hispanic men and 1.2 percent of white men in the same age group were in custody.
The Sentencing Project, a group that supports alternatives to incarceration, says the black U.S. inmate population is unprecedented. "If black male inmates in local jails are added, the proportion rises to nearly one in seven," said Marc Mauer, Sentencing Project spokesman, referring to blacks age 25 to 29.
One reason the number of black inmates continues to rise is the government's war against drugs. Convictions for drug offenses accounted for 27 percent of the increase in black inmates, compared with 7 percent for Hispanic inmates and 15 percent for white inmates.
States are more likely to lock up people for violent offenses than for drugs. But the federal government is taking up the slack, with drug crimes accounting for 59 percent of the increase in federal prison inmates - even as the percentage of violent offenders dropped to 10 percent from 17 percent, the report said.
"We're still seeing the impact of the drug war and mandatory sentencing," said Mauer. "As long as there is a commitment in the White House and Capitol Hill, we're not going to see any change."
The number of state prison inmates grew in 2001 by only 3,193, or 0.3 percent, to 1,249,038, while the federal prison population expanded by 11,577, or 8 percent, to 156,993. The overall increase was 1.1 percent, the lowest annual rate recorded since 1972.
Mauer says states facing budget shortfalls are now more sensitive to the cost of imprisoning people who break the law.
The three states with the highest rates of incarceration - Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi - in the past two years have tried to limit the growth of their prison populations, according to The Sentencing Project. Louisiana eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes, Mississippi eased its "truth in sentencing" law and Texas increased the number of inmates paroled by nearly a third in 2001 over the previous fiscal year.
"The cost arguments are finally hitting home," Mauer said.
Last year, 10 states had substantial decreases in their state and federal inmate populations, led by New Jersey (down 5.5 percent), followed by Utah (down 5.2 percent), New York (down 3.8 percent) and Texas (down 2.8 percent).
The Sentencing Project, in its analysis of the government's 2001 statistics, says the U.S. continues to be the world leader in terms of what percent of its population is behind bars. For last year, the rate of incarceration was 686 inmates out of every 100,000 Americans.
In the 1990s, according to the Sentencing Project, the U.S. and Russia had about the same rate of incarceration, but Russia has cut back, granting amnesty to over 100,00 prisoners in recent years. Russia's rate of incarceration is now believed to be 644 out of every 100,000 Russians.
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