Over the last 20 years, the U.S. prison population has grown at a staggering rate. The engine driving this explosive growth has been the incarceration of nonviolent law offenders and mandatory minimum sentencing. The U.S. now has the largest prison population, numerically and per capita, in the world. More than 2.2 million people are incarcerated in the United States. One in one hundred adults in the U.S. is behind bars. The U.S. accounts for only five percent of the world’s population, but we account for 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.
New Jersey’s prison growth has not only kept pace with this national trend—it has exceeded it. In 1987, the state passed the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act, considered one of the harshest laws of its kind in the country. Several of the provisions of the Act authorized mandatory minimum sentences. In the years since the Act, a constant stream of new and harsher penalties were enacted.