The report, published by the Pew Centre using data partly supplied by the US Justice Department and Bureau of Prisons, acknowledges that the increase in the incarceration rate coincides with steep declines in violent crime, but questions whether the correlation between the two phenomena is direct.
It says that nationwide there are now 1.6 million people in prisons, translating into one in every 99.1 adults. It has never been so high and can be traced back to a surge of prison sentences handed down through the 1990s, although the rate has continued to trend upward since 2000.
The findings also underline America’s position as the most prison-heavy country in the world, far outstripping China, which has the second highest rate of imprisonment as well as Russia, ranked third.
For minority groups the picture is especially bleak. One in every 36 Hispanic adults is currently behind bars, while the number for African American men is one in 15. More stunning is the rate of imprisonment for black men aged 20 to 34, where one out of every nine is now serving time.
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