2.24 Million Behind Bars, Giving the United States the Shameful Title of World
The Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics reports today that the number of people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails jumped by 62,037 in the year ending June 30, 2006. That jump represents the largest increase since 2000. There are now 2.24 million people behind bars in this country. The United States continues to rank first among all nations in both total prison/jail population and per capita incarceration rates -- with about 5% of the world's population but 25% of the world's incarcerated population.
The failed drug war policies of 30-plus years are a major contributor to America's prison population explosion. Approximately 50,000 people were incarcerated for drug law violations in 1980. The total is now roughly 500,000. (This number does not include hundreds of thousands of parolees and probationers who are incarcerated for technical violations such as "dirty urines," nor does it include non-drug offenses committed under the influence of drugs, or to support a drug habit, or crimes of violence committed by drug sellers.)
"Two powerful forces are at play today," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "On the one hand, public opinion strongly supports alternatives to incarceration for non-violent, and especially low-level, drug law violators -- and state legislatures around the country are beginning to follow suit. On the other hand, the prison industrial complex has become a powerful force in American society, able to make the most of the political inertia that sustains knee-jerk lock-'em-up policies."
The Drug Policy Alliance has played a pivotal role in reforming drug sentencing laws around the country, including Proposition 36 in California, reform of the Rockefeller drug laws in New York, and equalization of crack and powder cocaine penalties in Connecticut.