Be My Incarcerated Valentine

Just months into the new millennium, America has earned the distinction of having a quarter of the world’s prison population, despite comprising just 5 percent of the world’s population.

By Valentines Day, the prison population in the United States will top two million for the first time, reports the Justice Policy Institute.

Using the most up to date Justice Department statistics and trends, the Institute estimates that the U.S. now has the world’s largest incarcerated population, and the highest incarceration rate.

"There will be little to celebrate this Valentines Day," said Vincent Schiraldi, director of the Institute. "The ascendance of prisons as our decade’s major public works project and social program is a sad and costly legacy."

The Institute’s report, "The Punishing Decade: Prison and Jail Estimates at the Millennium," shows that the imprisoned population grew at a faster rate during the 1990s than during any decade in recorded history.

The United States entered the 1990s with 1,145,300 inmates in its jails and prisons. By the end of this year, there will be 2,073,969 behind bars.

The rate of prison growth during the 1990s dwarfed the growth of any previous decade. It exceeded the prison growth of the 1980s by 61 percent, and is nearly 30 times the average prison population growth of any decade before the 1970s.

The Institute estimated that $41 billion will be spent on building new prisons by the end of 2000. It also reported that in 1995, for the first time, states across the country spent more building prisons than building universities and two-thirds of those incarcerated (about 1.2 million inmates) are imprisoned for non-violent offenses.

"Our prisons and jails represent the sad reality that one out of three young African-American males are under some form of criminal justice control," said Jason Ziedenberg, policy analyst at the Institute. "The nation must find alternatives to incarceration to solve America’s pressing social problems."

The Justice Policy Institute is a Washington, D.C.-based policy development and research body. JPI is a project of the nonprofit Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

The study is posted at

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