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April 19, 2007

The number 2,000,000 in sentencing perspective

I see from my site-meter summary that today I passed 2,000,000 total visits since the meter started running in late June 2004.  That milestone prompts me not only to thank all of my readers for support and encouragement, but also to do a Harper's Index, sentencing style:

Number of persons executed in modern US death penalty era: 1070

Number of persons on death row in the US: 3350

Number of federal sentences imposed in fiscal year 2006: 72,585

Number of persons in US serving life imprisonment: roughly 132,000

Number of persons now released from US prisons each year: roughly 650,000

Number of felony sentences in state court in 2002: 1,051,000

Number of prisoners in federal or state prisons or jails at the end of 2005: 2,320,359

Number of persons supervised on probation or parole at the end of 2005: 4,946,944

April 19, 2007 at 01:56 PM | Permalink


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I remember living in France in 1984 and thinking that it was surprising that they seemed to have a fairly well-functioning criminal justice system accompanied by a high level of civil liberties, since everyone knew that the United States had the best and fairest system of justice in the world.

Now, more than 20 years latter, it is difficult for me to find an advanced industrialized country that has a worse overall system of justice or one that has less regard for civil liberties. For all the bluster you hear about our system, most of these people have never travelled nor do they know anything about any other systems.

One thing is true beyond dispute: For the vast majority of crimes, an innocent person would much rather be tried in Canada, Holland, France, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Great Britain, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Chile, Ireland, Portugal, Italy or Switzerland than to be tried in the United States, where the expected outcome of a judicial error as in the Duke Lacrosse Case, is likely to result in a sentence anywhere from five to thirty times the punishment.

Posted by: william | Apr 19, 2007 2:33:18 PM

Congrats, Doc - every visit of mine was well earned by your excellent content. best,

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Apr 19, 2007 5:15:41 PM

What is the net annual change in the prison population? I assume that not all felony convictions result in jail time, and some inmates die behind bars, so it's hard to get an idea of that from these numbers.

Posted by: jsg | Apr 19, 2007 7:35:59 PM

Congratulations, Prof.! That's quite the milestone. I bet there'll be another 2 mil before long.

Posted by: Gideon | Apr 19, 2007 8:45:42 PM


The number that enter prison each year is similar to the number that leave (about 650,000) but not all of them are new court commitments some are parole/probation revocations and other types of returns from community based correction. The combined number of felony convictions is about 1.1 million so a very rough estimate is that perhaps a third of the felony convictions result in a prison sentence.

The average growth rate for the combined federal and state prison population is about 3% about twice the growth rate for the total population. Some state prison population are growing at a faster rate and 12 states have negative growth rates. Prison death rates vary over a wide range from state to state with AIDS the leading cause of death. BJS has been collecting data on deaths in custody but so far they have only reported the results for 2002.

The American Bar Association claims the problem is overuse of incarceration. They say that incarceration should be restricted to persons who are a threat to public safety and repeated offenders. In general I agree but I think shock probation (incarceration followed by probation) is a useful tool for preventing recidivism by young offenders who are not likely to do well on probation .

Posted by: John Neff | Apr 20, 2007 12:21:40 PM

GPS tracking systems are only a small part of what it takes to keep our children safe from sexual predators. First of all, legislators need to ensure that these sex offenders cannot reside anywhere near children. Police need to spend less time hiding with their radar guns to give speeding tickets and more time monitoring areas where sex offenders reside. GPS tracking bracelets are a must! The people monitoring GPS trackers most be competent and knowledgeable.

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