May 29, 2004 – A Department of Justice (DoJ) report shows that for the first half of 2003, the number of people imprisoned in the United States skyrocketed. According to a Justice Departmentâ€™s Bureau of Justice Statistics as of June 30, 2003, there were 2,087,570 people jailed in the US, a 57,000-person increase from the year before.
The DoJ also reported that the female inmate population topped 100,000 for the first time in 2003, growing by five percent during the year, compared with a 2.7 percent increase in the male prison population. The only declining prison population for the year between June 30, 2002 and June 30, 2003 was inmates under 18 years of age.
The agency also reported that blacks (39.2 percent of the overall prison population) and Hispanics (15.4 percent of the prison population) continue to be disproportionately represented in US jails. According to the report, an estimated twelve percent of African American males in their twenties were incarcerated last year, while 3.7 percent of Hispanic males of the same age were jailed along with 1.6 percent of their non-Hispanic white male counterparts. A total of 68 percent of prison inmates were members of racial or ethnic minority groups.
While Attorney General John Ashcroft responded to the report saying it shows law enforcement is successfully taking "hard core criminals" off the street, many prison reform groups attribute the rise in prison population to mandatory minimum sentencing laws. These measures, say prison activists, are leading to the prolonged incarceration of hundreds of thousands of low-level offenders, people who have committed relatively minor crimes, such as drug possession.
The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country and the US prison population represents almost a quarter of all the worldâ€™s prisoners, according to figures compiled by the British Government.