HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html U.S. Prisoners Top 2 Million For First Time
Pubdate: Mon, 07 Apr 2003
Source: Sun News (Myrtle Beach, SC)
Copyright: 2003 Sun Publishing Co.
Note: apparent 150 word limit on LTEs
Author: Curt Anderson, The Associated Press
Bookmark: (Incarceration)


Drug Sentences Play Large Part In Record Number

WASHINGTON - The number of people in U.S. prisons and jails last year 
topped 2 million for the first time, driven by get-tough sentencing 
policies that mandate long terms for drug offenders and other criminals, 
the government reported Sunday.

The federal government accounted for more inmates than any state, with 
almost 162,000, according to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 
part of the Justice Department. That includes the transfer of about 8,900 
District of Columbia prisoners to the federal system.

California, Texas, Florida and New York were the four biggest state prison 
systems, mirroring their status as the most populous states.

But Texas, California, New York, Illinois and five other states saw their 
inmate populations drop compared with the year before, as prison releases 
outpaced admissions.

Some states modified parole rules to deal with steep budget shortfalls, 
leading to an overall growth rate in state prison populations of just less 
than 1 percent from June 2001 to June 2002. The federal prison population 
grew by 5.7 percent.

The inmate population on June 30, 2002, was 2.1 million, an increase of 2.8 
percent from the year before. Two-thirds were in federal or state prisons, 
with the other third held in jails, the report said.

The report did not count all juvenile offenders.

Malcolm Young, executive director of The Sentencing Project, said the 
increase continues a prison growth trend stemming from tough penalties 
meted out to drug abusers and traffickers, as well as "three strikes" laws 
that can mandate life sentences for repeat offenders.

"It's part of the get-tough scheme. It's been going on for 30 years," said 
Young, whose nonprofit organization advocates alternatives to 
incarceration, such as drug courts and treatment programs.

This is especially true at the federal level, where efforts to reduce 
sentences for such crimes as crack cocaine trafficking - far higher than 
sentences for dealing in powder cocaine - have failed in Congress.

Attorney General John Ashcroft has pushed for tougher prison sentences.

Young said it has not been smart politics for Democrats or Republicans to 
push for more lenient sentences, particularly for violent crimes.

"No politician is going to say 'I'm for shorter sentences for people who 
have done violent things,'" he said.
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