US inmates top 2 million

AFP via News 24 April 7, 2003

For the first time in history the population of US federal, state and local prisons has surpassed two million people, consolidating the US lead over China, Russia and even Belarus in both absolute numbers of inmates and the rate of incarceration, according to new figures made public Sunday.

But the numbers released by the justice department's bureau of justice statistics may not reflect the full picture.

"If you include INS, the territories, military jails, the Indian country and juvenile facilities, we did surpass the two-million mark back in 1999," Paige Harrison, one of the authors of the report, said.

If all the inmates held in these jails were included in the overall tally, it would grow by approximately another 130 000 people, according to Harrison.

The US Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS), which was folded into the newly-created department of homeland security earlier this year, operates its own system of detention facilities where it processes alleged illegal aliens.

According to the report, the 50 US states along with the District of Columbia and the federal government held behind bars as many as 1 355 748 people as of June 30, 2002, while 665 475 individuals were under lock and key in municipal and local jails.

The rate of incarceration was 702 inmates per each 100 000 US residents, up from 690 at midyear 2001. This means that one in every 142 people living in the United States was in jail in the middle of last year.

The figures show the United States remains the absolute world leader in both the overall number of inmates and their ratio to the population at large.

The world's most populous country, China, whose human rights record is being constantly assailed in part for throwing people in jail for political reasons, has over 1.4 million inmates, according to the British Home Office, which monitors these statistics.

The prison population of Russia is about 920 000, these figures indicate.

As for the incarceration rate, the United States is being followed by the Cayman Islands (664), Russia (638), Belarus (554) and Kazakhstan (522). - Sapa-AFP,6119,2-10-1462_1344062,00.html

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