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No clear return on public safety as U.S. jail rates reach 1 in 100, cost $49 billion.

For the first time in history, more than one in every 100 adults in America are in jail or prison--a fact that significantly impacts state budgets without delivering a clear return on public safety, according to the Pew Center on the States' Public Safety Performance Project.

The report points out that prison growth and higher incarceration rates do not reflect a parallel increase in crime, or a corresponding surge in the U.S. population.

Instead, more people are behind bars principally because of a wave of policy choices that are sending more lawbreakers to prison and, through popular "three-strikes" measures and other sentencing laws, imposing longer prison stays on inmates.

The report, One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008, indicates that:

* 2,319,258 adults were held in American prisons or jails;

* states spent more than $49 billion on corrections, up from $11 billion 20 years ago;

* the national recidivism rate remains virtually unchanged, with about half of released inmates returning to jail or prison within three years.

Violent criminals and other serious offenders account for some of the growth, but many inmates are low-level offenders or people who have violated the terms of their probation or parole.

Texas surpassed all other states as a prison leader. Four states, New York, Michigan, Texas and California, saw their prison populations dip.

According to Pew, some states are attempting to protect public safety and reap corrections savings primarily by holding lower-risk offenders accountable in less-costly settings, and using intermediate sanctions for parolees and probationers who violate the conditions of their release. U.S. incarceration rates are about five times as high as Canada, and seven or eight times as those in western European countries.
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Publication:Community Action
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 20, 2008
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