U.S. ‘Correctional Population’ Hits New High
by FOX BUTTERFIELD
The number of Americans under the control of the criminal justice system grew by 130,700 last year to reach a new high of nearly 6.9 million, according to a Justice Department report released today.
The total includes people in jail and prison as well as those on probation and parole. This is about 3.2 percent of the adult population in the United States, the report said.
The growth in what the report termed the “correctional population” comes at a time when the crime rate nationwide has been relatively stable for several years. It also comes when many states, faced with budget deficits, have passed new, less strict sentencing laws in an attempt to reduce the number of inmates.
The report does not address why the number of men and women in jail and prison and on probation and parole has continued to increase. But experts say the most likely reason is the cumulative effect of the tougher sentencing laws passed in the 1990’s, which led to more people’s being sent to prison and being required to serve longer terms.
The report found that there were 691,301 people in local and county jails and 1,387,269 in state and federal prisons last year, for a total of 2,078,570. That was an increase of 3.9 percent in the jail population and 2.3 percent in the prison population.
At the same time, the report said, there were 4,073,987 Americans on probation at the end of last year, an increase of 1.2 percent from the end of 2002, and 774,588 on parole, up 3.1 percent.
In general, people on probation have been placed there after being convicted of a crime instead of being sent to jail or prison. People on parole have usually already served prison time and are kept on parole for further supervision.
About 41 percent of adults on parole last year were black; 40 percent were white.
The number of women on parole has steadily increased in recent years, the report found. The percentage of parolees who were women was 13 percent at the end of 2003, up from 10 percent at the end of 1995. This increase reflects a slow but steady growth in the number of women being arrested for and convicted of serious crimes.
Of those people discharged from parole in 2003, 38 percent were returned to prison, either because of a technical violation like failing a drug urine test or because they were charged with committing a new crime. Another 9 percent absconded and could not be located by law enforcement, the report said.
The 3.1 percent increase in the number of people on parole, the biggest in at least a decade, troubles many police and prosecutors, because they believe that newly released inmates are likely to return to a life of crime and are a major source of violence in some cities, including Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Texas led the nation with 534,260 people on probation or parole, followed by California, with 485,039.