3% were incarcerated or monitored by corrections officials in 1999

Monday, July 24th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

One of every 32 American adults – 3.1 percent of the population – was being "supervised" by federal, state or local corrections authorities at the end of 1999, according to a Department of Justice report released Sunday.

That is the highest percentage in U.S. history of people incarcerated or out on probation or parole, the department said.

The 1999 figure represents a 0.2 percentage point increase over 1998 and continues a 20-year trend of increasing corrections supervision. In 1980, authorities were monitoring only 1.1 percent of the population. That number jumped to 2.3 in 1990.

This does not necessarily indicate an increase in violent crime, said Allen Beck, chief of correction statistics at the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Although corrections supervision has increased, violent crime decreased during the 1990s.

"Much of the growth in the 1990s is attributable to criminal justice system reforms, an increase of toughness on [nonviolent] crime," Mr. Beck said.

Increased drunken driving and drug-related convictions also contribute to the increase, he said.

Georgia (5.8 percent), Idaho (4.2 percent) and Texas (3.9 percent) led the nation in supervised persons. Delaware (3.8 percent), Washington (3.7 percent) and Minnesota (3.1 percent) all had supervision rates equal to or higher than the overall rate.

Nine states had less than 1 percent under supervision.

In all, 1.9 million more people were under supervision in 1999 than in 1990. The figure is startling, said Dan Macallair, vice president of the Justice Policy Institute, a nonprofit group that advocates rehabilitation instead of incarceration.

"This raises some questions about where our values are," he said. "Are we, as a country, simply in a vengeance mood?"

Mr. Macallair said that an increase in nonviolent crime convictions and laws creating increasingly stringent punishments are primary reasons for the increase. Criminals convicted on drug and other nonviolent charges also spend more time in prison than in previous decades, he said.