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Evidence Grows That Prison Boom Is Failing to Slow Crime Rate


July 1993

Despite a 168 percent increase in the nation's prison population since 1980, evidence is growing that the crime rate and the incarceration rate have little relationship to each other (Ed Timms, "Experts Rethink Ideas Behind Prison Boom," Dallas Morning News, 6/13/93, 1A).

The U.S. now has a greater percentage of its citizens behind bars than any other country, including South Africa. The combined federal and state prison population stands at about 884,000. About 40 percent of the growth in prisoners since 1977 is attributable to sentences meted out to drug offenders, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Ironically, nonviolent drug offenders have sometimes displaced violent offenders, resulting in a paradoxical situation where the most dangerous felons are serving shorter sentences than prior to the crackdown on drug offenders.