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U.S. Still Leads World's Incarceration Rate

The U.S, has widened its lead as the nation with the highest incarceration rate, according to figures complied by the Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C. based organization that conducts research on criminal justice issues.

A year ago, the Sentencing Project reported that only South Africa came close to the United States in incarceration. But since then, the U.S. rate has climbed 6.8 percent, to 455 per 100,000 population, while South Africa's rate declined somewhat, to 311 per 100,000. Other nations were reported to have much lower rates, such as 111 per 100,000 in Canada, 46 per 100,000 in the Netherlands, 44 per 100,000 in Sweden, and 42 per 100,000 in Japan.

The Sentencing Project Assistant Director Marc Mauer, who conducted the study, estimated the United States' cost of incarcerating 1.1 million inmates at $20.3 billion per year. " Although we've tripled our prison population since 1973 and will add 30 percent more prisoners by 1995, these policies have failed," he said. " It's time we joined the many other nations which are questioning the usefulness of incarceration."

The incarceration rate for black males is especially high, the Sentencing Project noted: 3,370 per 100,000 in the United States, and 681 per 100,000 in South Africa. The Sentencing Project cited several recent studies suggesting that racial discrimination in the criminal justice system contributes to the higher incarceration rate for blacks.

In arguing that high rates of incarceration have not made Americans safer the Sentencing Project documented the large role of drug cases in the incarceration rate, and noted that the national Institute on Drug Abuse recently found that use of cocaine at least once a week (considered an indicator of "hard-core" drug abuse), and drug abuse by inner-city blacks, increased last year. "Thus we see little change in drug use among the population which has been most heavily subjected to criminal justice sanctions," the report said.

The Sentencing Project called for federal and state governments to commit themselves to reducing their prison populations while developing alternatives to incarceration. See, Americans Behind Bars: One Year Later, a 20-page report, is available for $5.00 from the Sentencing Project 918 F. Street NW, Suite 501, Washington, DC 20004.

From: Criminal Justice Newsletter

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