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America's One Million Nonviolent Prisoners

Over the past two decades, no area of state government expenditures has increased as rapidly as prisons and jails. Justice Department data released on March 15, 1999 show that the number of prisoners in America has more than tripled over the last two decades from 500,000 to 1.8 million, with states like California and Texas experiencing eightfold prison population increases during that time. America's overall prison population now exceeds the combined populations of Alaska, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

What is most disturbing about the prison population explosion is that the people being sent to prison are not the Ted Bundies, Charlie Mansons, and Timothy McVeighs - or even less sensationalized robbers, rapists, and murders - that the public imagines them to be. Most are defendants who have been found guilty of nonviolent and
not particularly serious crimes that do not involve any features that agitate high levels of concern in the minds of the public. Too often, they are imprisoned under harsh mandatory sentencing schemes which were ostensibly aimed at the worst of the worse.

As this analysis will show, the very opposite has been true over the past 20 years. Most of the growth in America’s prisons since 1978 is accounted for by nonviolent offenders and 1998 is the first year in which America’s prisons and jails incarcerated more than 1 million nonviolent offenders.

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Keywords: Criminal Justice, Incarceration, Prison Population, Report

Posted in Criminal Justice (Adult)

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