JUSTICE reports that one in 32 American adults are in the corrections system

Sunday, August 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The number of adults behind bars, on parole or on probation reached a record 6.47 million in 2000 _ or one in 32 American adults, the government reported Sunday.

On the positive side, the percentage increase from 1999 was half the average annual rate since 1990.

Jails and prisons held 30 percent of the adults in the corrections system, or 1,933,503 million. People on probation accounted for 59 percent of the total, or 3,839,532 million. An additional 725,527 adults were on parole, a period of supervision following release from prison.

Over the past two decades, the number of adults in the corrections system has tripled, so they now make up 3.1 of the country's adult population, compared with 1 percent in 1980, said Allen J. Beck, a chief researcher with the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics.

``It's just overwhelming,'' said Kara Gotsch, a spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project, which advocates alternatives to incarceration. ``It just shows that we need to put much more into prevention.''

During the 1990s, the corrections population increased 49 percent. By the end of last year, there were 2.1 million more adults in the system than there were in 1990.

The rate of growth was 2 percent between 1999 and 2000, compared with an average of 4 percent during the 1990s. Beck attributed the slowing growth to the cumulative effect of a general drop in crime rates that began in the 1990s.

``This could be the beginning of a peak,'' said James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University in Boston.

Nearly 2.5 million people were released from parole or probation in 2000. Among parolees, half successfully completed the terms of their release in 1990. By 2000, just 43 percent completed parole and stayed out through the end of the year.

Among those released from community supervision in 2000, 15 percent of probationers and 42 percent of parolees were sent back to prison or jail that year for new violations. Fox said that figure underestimates the large number who will probably be convicted again.

Beck noted that the number of Americans who have returned to prison has remained stable over time.

To Gotsch, that shows the shortsightedness of corrections policies that focus more on punishment and less on rehabilitation.

``It's no wonder that they're re-offending at incredibly high rates because we don't teach them anything else,'' she said.

The report also showed:

_Among those on probation, 52 percent were convicted of felonies, the most frequent of which was driving under the influence, followed by drug offenses.

_The percentage of women in the prison population, as well as their percentages among probationers and parolees, rose.

_The states with the largest percentage of their adult population in the corrections system were Georgia, 6.8 percent, and Texas, 5 percent. At the other end were West Virginia, New Hampshire and North Dakota, each with 0.9 percent.