- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 27, 2002


The number of people in the U.S. correctional system hit a record 6.6 million more than 3 in every 100 adults last year, the Justice Department says.

The adult population either behind bars, or on probation or parole climbed by 147,700, or 2.3 percent, between 2000 and 2001. That is compared with fewer than 4.4 million adults in 1990, the department reported Sunday.

Nearly 4 million people were on probation, 2.8 percent more than in 2000, while there was a 1 percent increase of those on parole, to 731,147. The number of people in prison grew by 1.1 percent to 1.3 million, the smallest annual increase in nearly three decades.

There was a 1.6 percent increase of people in jails, to 631,240. More than half of those on probation 53 percent had been convicted of felonies, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report.

Analysts noted a trend toward fewer arrests for murder, rape and other violent crimes. Many of those on probation were convicted of using illegal drugs or driving while intoxicated.

In addition, some states have eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes. California's Proposition 36, which passed in 2000 with 61 percent of the vote, requires treatment rather than incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders. Most of those drug users wind up on probation.

"The collection of reforms, from drug courts to treatment in lieu of incarceration to sentence reforms like getting rid of mandatory minimums and expanding community correction options, have the effect of redirecting people from prison to probation," said Nick Turner, director of national programs for the Vera Institute of Justice. The nonprofit research group works with governments on criminal justice issues.

However, said Marc Mauer, assistant director of Sentencing Project, which favors alternatives to incarceration, "The overall figures suggest that we've come to rely on the criminal justice system as a way of responding to social problems in a way that's unprecedented."

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