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Correctional population hits record 7m { July 26 2004 }

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U.S. `correctional population' hits record 6.9 million
Report: 3.2% of adults in the system

By Fox Butterfield
New York Times News Service
Published July 26, 2004

The number of Americans under the control of the criminal justice system grew by 130,700 last year to reach a new high of more than 6.9 million, according to a Justice Department report being released Monday.

The total includes people incarcerated as well as those on probation and parole. This is about 3.2 percent of the adult population in the United States, the report said.

The growth in the "correctional population" has occurred at a time when the crime rate nationwide has been relatively stable for several years. It also comes as many states, faced with budget deficits, have enacted less strict sentencing laws in an attempt to reduce their inmate count.

The report does not address why the correctional population has risen during a 12-month period. But experts say the most likely reason is the cumulative effect of the tougher sentencing laws passed in the 1990s, which led to more people being sent to prison and serving longer terms.

The report found 691,301 people in local and county jails and 1,387,269 in state and federal prisons last year--a total of 2,078,570 inmates. The nation's jail population rose 3.9 percent and the prison population 2.3 percent.

At the same time, the report said, there were 4,073,987 Americans on probation at the end of last year, an increase of 1.2 percent from 2002, and 774,588 on parole, up 3.1 percent.

In general, people receive probation after being convicted of a crime in lieu of being sent to jail or prison. People on parole had served prison time and were kept in such programs for further supervision.

About 41 percent of adults on parole last year were black while 40 percent were white.

The number of women on parole has steadily increased in recent years, according to the federal report. Women accounted for 13 percent of parolees at the end of 2003, up from 10 percent at the end of 1995. This increase reflects a slow but steady growth in the number of women being arrested for and convicted of serious crimes.

Of those people discharged from parole in 2003, 38 percent were returned to prison, either because of a technical violation like failing a drug-urine test or because they were charged with committing a new crime. Another 9 percent absconded and could not be located by law-enforcement authorities, the study found.

The 3.1 percent increase in the number of parolees--the biggest in at least a decade--troubles many police and prosecutors, who fear the released inmates are likely to return to a life of crime and are a major source of violence in some cities, including Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Texas led the nation with 534,260 people on probation or parole, followed by California, with 485,039.

Copyright 2004, Chicago Tribune

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