Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Prison Alternatives

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Prison Alternatives

Article excerpt

In recent years, crime in the United States has generally gone down, and yet the prison population continues to grow - a troubling trend that needs to be arrested.

A new Justice Department report puts the 2002 inmate population at 2.1 million - a 2.6 percent jump over 2001 and the largest since 1999. If that sounds small, note that those statistics mean the federal prison population has grown by a stunning 69 percent since 1995 - and the state prison population by 22 percent.

The primary reason for the latest increases remains the same as in recent years - tough-on-crime policies that have increased prison time for both violent and nonviolent offenders.

Beyond the human costs of keeping minor offenders behind bars for long periods, many states are balking at the budget costs. Nationwide, the total bill for running prisons is estimated at $40 billion a year.

Kansas, Texas, Michigan, and Washington have done away with mandatory minimum sentences for minor drug offenses. …

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