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U.S. Now Has World's Highest Incarceration Rate

The U.S. now has the highest recorded rate of imprisonment of any nation in the world, according to a new report by The Sentencing Project. With over one million inmates in prison and jail, the U.S. surpasses both South Africa and the Soviet Union.

The study also found that black males in the U.S. are imprisoned at a rate four times that of black males in South Africa: 3,109 out of every 100,000, as compared to 729 in South Africa. The annual cost of incarceration for the U.S. was estimated at $16 billion, and for the estimated 454,724 black male prisoners, almost $7 billion.

"Despite all the claims, the same policies that have helped make us a world leader in incarceration have clearly failed to make us a safer nation," stated Marc Mauer, assistant director of The Sentencing Project and author of the report. "We need a fundamental change of direction, towards proven programs and policies that work to reduce both imprisonment and crime."

The study, Americans Behind Bars: A Comparison of International Rates of Incarceration, found that per 100,000 population, the U.S. incarcerates 426 people, South Africa 333, and the Soviet Union 268. A doubling of the U.S. prison and jail populations in the last decade has moved this country into the leading position. The report contends that U.S. criminal justice policies have unnecessarily contributed to the world record imprisonment rates.

Congressman John Conyers (D-Miss.) stated: "This report illustrates the long term effect of the draconian criminal justice policies the United Slates has been implementing over the past decade, and is indicative of policies that have failed our people."

The report noted that, according to the most recent Justice Department study of recidivism, 62.5 percent of prisoners are rearrested within three years of release from prison. The document called for the repeal of mandatory sentencing laws, effective service and treatment programs, a redirection of the so called war on drugs, attention to community needs that will work to prevent crime, and for a national dialogue on the issues of crime and punishment.

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