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Monday, 26 March, 2001, 02:04 GMT 03:04 UK
US prison population nears two million
Arrest
Civil rights groups say the prison population is still far too high
By Tom Carver in Washington

The number of people imprisoned in the United States is at record levels and will exceed two million by the end of this year, authorities say.


We have 25% of the world's prisoners but we're only 5% of the world's population

Kara Gotsch, American Civil Liberties Union
But according to figures released by the Department of Justice, the increase last year in the number of prisoners was only 3%, the slowest since 1971.

Although the number of people incarcerated in America's jails has grown every year throughout the 1990s, the rate is slowing.

Civil rights groups have welcomed the trend, but insist the country's prison population is still way too high.

Tougher sentencing

Eleven states, including two of the largest - New York and California - reported a drop in their prison populations last year.

Although crime has been on the decline, a tougher sentencing policy has ensured the prisons have continued to expand

According to the report, 80% of inmates are from racial minorities.

Nearly one in eight black males aged between 20 and 34 were in prison in America on any given day.

The American Civil Liberties Union says the country's incarceration rate is much higher than other democracies.

"We have 25% of the world's prisoners but we're only 5% of the world's population," said spokesman Kara Gotsch.

Ms Gotsch said the slower growth rate represents a trend towards dealing with criminals outside the prison system, such as sending drug offenders to treatment programmes.

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08 May 00 | Americas
US crime rate falls again
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