FOR the first time in US history, more than one in 100 American adults are behind bars, according to a new report.
Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million, after three decades of growth that has seen the prison population nearly triple. Another 723,000 people are in local jails.
The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars.
Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 adult Hispanic men is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 adult black men is, too, as is one in nine black men aged 20-34.
The report, from the Pew Centre on the States, also found that one in 355 white women aged 35-39 is behind bars, compared with one in 100 black women.
The report's methodology differed from that used by the Justice Department, which calculates the incarceration rate by using the total population rather than the adult population as the denominator. Using the department's methodology, about one in 130 Americans is behind bars.
The increase in the number of prisoners over the past 18 months, the Pew report says, pushed the national adult incarceration rate to just over one in 100. "We aren't really getting the return in public safety from this level of incarceration," said Susan Urahn, the centre's managing director.
But Paul Cassell, a law professor at the University of Utah and a former federal judge, said the Pew report considered only half of the cost-benefit equation, overlooking the "very tangible benefits — lower crime rates".
In the past 20 years, according the FBI, rates of violent crimes fell by 25%, to 464 per 100,000 people in 2007 from 612.5 in 1987.
The US imprisons more people than any other nation in the world. China is second, with 1.5 million people behind bars. Germany imprisons 93 out of every 100,000 people, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies at King's College in London. The comparable number for the US is roughly eight times that, or 750 out of 100,000.
The report said: "Prison costs are blowing a hole in state budgets."
On average, states spend almost 7% of their budgets on corrections, trailing only health care, education and transportation.
NEW YORK TIMES
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