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November 8, 2004

Over 2 million prisoners and counting

The Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics released yesterday its data-rich bulletin, "Prisoners in 2003," which provides a wealth of information about national correction rates. The lead in this NY Times story about the report highlights that "the number of inmates in state and federal prisons rose 2.1 percent last year, even as violent crime and property crime fell." However, as TalkLeft highlights here, there are many other noteworthy national numbers in this report. The one that always catches my eye is total prisoners, and the report indicates that 2,212,475 total persons were behind bars in the US on December 31 last year.

Especially when our national dialogue is about a divided country, I find it especially interesting to focus on the state-level data in this amazing report. Consider, for example, that:

Eleven States exceeded the national prison incarceration rate of 482 per 100,000 residents, led by Lousiana (801), Mississippi (768), Texas (702), and Oklahoma (636). Nine States, including Maine (149), Minnesota (155), and North Dakota (181), had rates that were less than half the national rate.

But, of course, total prison populations  tell only part of the story; rates of change are also crucial to understanding the true state of sentencing and corrections today.  So consider:

Between January 1 and December 31, 2003, North Dakota experienced the largest increase in prison populations (up 11.4%), followed by Minnesota (10.3%), Montana (up 8.9%), and Wyoming (up 7.8%). Eleven States experienced a decline. Connecticut had the largest decline (down 4.2%), followed by New York (down 2.8%), Michigan (down 2.4%), and New Jersey (down 2.3%). In absolute numbers of inmates, 4 jurisdictions grew by at least 2,000 inmates during 2003. The Federal system (up 9,531), experienced the largest growth, followed by Texas (up 4,908), Florida (up 4,384), and California (up 3,126). New York and Michigan had a drop of at least 1,000 inmates (down 1,867 and 1,233, respectively).

November 8, 2004 at 07:37 AM | Permalink


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It's good to see more bad people going to prison, however, I think the prosecutors need to stop going for life in prison and instead go for the death penalty for murderers and rapists.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 8, 2004 9:27:00 AM

Over 2 million and counting: One in 140 American adults are in prison or jail...
1 in 140 - but what about the families? Read the blogs on sentencing disparities and get excited about Blakely or Booker and Fanfan, and then realize that most prisoners in either state or federal prisons are males. They're sons, fathers, brothers - add an average of 4 family members to each prisoner and you've got 4 x the 2.2 million plus prisoners. That should be a real good reason for a real grass roots movement towards sentencing reforms. Understand that the plea bargain is an incentive for prosecutors to just railroad a defendant into a guilty plea or face the threat of enhanced sentence levels. We need to also understand that the overcrowding in federal prisons, thanks to the "war on drugs", has eliminated virtually every possible chance a (usually young)federal prisoner has to learn something other than a quick way to make a dollar - and once again we're looking at the new federal prisoner as the standard: young, usually male, usually plea bargained into an average of 10 years or more, thanks to overzealous prosecutors and greedy criminal attorneys (sorry for sounding so bitter, but I'm so tired of hearing about Anders briefs filed by attorneys who took the money, talked the defendant into a plea bargain, and filed an Anders brief when the defendant was broke, heading for jail). If you know someone in jail or prison - you probably should pay attention to what the Supreme Court does in the next month or so...and pray for all of us who are so adversely affected by mandatory minimum and the federal sentencing guidelines.

Posted by: Mary H | Nov 26, 2004 1:36:32 AM

I am a friend to a person behind bars and his sentence is not proportional to what his co defendant got which is not fair to him and to the people who care for him. the person i am talking about is incarcerated for 155yrs to life for robbery and his co defendant got only 6 yrs both had the same criminal history and priors;one got the chance to rehabilitate and the other is sitting in prison still. his family does not have enough money to get a lawyer who can actually represent him and them in the right way so as to get him a second chance just like the other one received or at least to reduce his sentence in some way.

Posted by: natally | Dec 17, 2004 1:57:47 PM

my name is Christal Viator, My ex husbands name is Gus Cahanin and is incarcerated in Winnsboro Detention in Winnsboro Lousiana he was convicted of stealing guns to sell for drugs he was convicted yrs ago for stealing also but this time it was to buy drugs he is 49 yrs old and never was in to drugs while we were together he was always a good father before the drugs came into his life. I help get him arrested along with his children by his first wife to help him. Well we thought that they would have helped him get into a drug program instead they locked him up for 5 yrs he is not a violent affender so I was hoping that he could get out with this new law that has passed. My daughter is 16 and my son is 11 they need there dad in there life not because of child support but just to be there when they need him. so I dont knowif this letter will help any at all but I dont know how to get someones attention to help get him out please help if you can help in any way it would be greatly appreciated. thanks, christal viator

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