From the March 2000 Idaho Observer:

Nation achieves sad plateau

2 million -- One of every 132.5 Americans -- behind bars

by The Idaho Observer

In 1997, the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice reported that 1,197,590 Americans were serving at least one year in a state or federal institution. The number has almost doubled in three years as it was internationally reported that the two millionth American was added to the prison population in mid February.

The number has more than tripled since 1988 when the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported the number of Americans behind bars was a mere 603,928.

The population of the U.S. is approximately 265 million. That means one of every 132.5 Americans is currently doing time in a state or federal institution.

According to the Justice Policy Institute (JPI), the nation formerly known as the land of the free has the world's highest incarceration rate, surpassing Russia and China. JPI also reported that the U.S. boasts the world's largest prison population.

With less than five percent of the world's population, the U.S. now has fully one-quarter of the world's prisoners. There are six times as many Americans behind bars as are imprisoned in the 12 countries making up the entire European Union, even though those countries have 100 million more citizens than the U.S.

The prison industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the nation. Traditionally agrarian communities all across the country that have had their farming and ranching-based economies regulated out of existence are trading horses and plows for badges and bars -- forced of economic necessity "rivet their chains on the necks of our fellow sufferers."

“Two million is too many,” said Nora Callahan, Director of the November Coalition, a national reform group calling for alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders. Nonviolent drug offenders and people convicted of other nonviolent crimes make up at least 50 percent of the prison population. “Prison is not the solution to every social problem,” said Callahan.

According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, Idaho had the fourth largest percentage of prison population growth in the nation between 1992 and 1997 with an increase of 74.9 percent. West Virginia led the nation with an increase of 89.5 percent in the same time period followed by Wisconsin and Texas with increases of 79.2 percent and 75.3 percent respectively.

More information on this subject matter can be found by contacting the November Coalition at:

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