[Hpn] Homelessness amd U.S. Prison Populations Hit All-Time High - Another set of Growth Industry Opportunities? set of Growth Industry Opportunities?

I CAN! icanamerica@email.msn.com
Wed, 26 Apr 2000 05:34:08 -0500

Growth Industries in Texas, California and Louisiana - Get *in* early!

WASHINGTON (APBnews.com) -- One of every 147 Americans is now behind bars.

America's prisons and jails held a record 1,860,520 inmates at mid-year 1999,
58,333 inmates more than a year earlier, the Justice Department's Bureau of
Justice Statistics announced today.

Though growth slowed during 1999 -- to 2.3 percent from an annual average of 4.6
percent since 1990 -- the prison population continued its decade-long expansion.
The number of inmates in 1999 is more than double the 1990 prison and jail
population of 712,000 inmates.

The California, Texas and federal prison systems incarcerated the most inmates,
accounting for about a quarter of all inmates, the study found.

Louisiana leads the nation (again in a bottoms up category)
Louisiana topped the country in the percentage of state residents behind bars,
with 763 inmates for every 100,000 Louisianans, compared with the national
average of 468 prisoners for every 100,000 Americans.

Louisiana officials cited the sprawling Angola prison farm facility as one
reason behind the state's high incarceration rate. At 18,000 acres, Angola is
the largest prison in the South and one of the largest in the United States.

"Angola is one of the largest prisons, so there's always been the room for
them," said Denise Bottcher, a spokeswoman for Louisiana Attorney General
Richard Ieyoub.

But other states are struggling with the load of new inmates. Overall, state
prisons were operating at 13 percent to 22 percent above capacity, while federal
prisons were 27 percent over capacity.

Drug offenses raise populations

Vermont, which the study says experienced the greatest increase in inmate
population, is spending about $27 million to build a new 350-bed prison to
supplement the 1,700 beds it now operates.

For now, with nowhere inside the state to house 350 overflow inmates, the state
has been paying about $6 million, or about 10 percent of its annual budget, to
rent prison and jail space from authorities in Virginia and New Jersey.

"The big issue for us is length of stay," said John Gorczyk, the commissioner of
the Vermont Department of Corrections. "The average length of stay for violent
offenders has gone up significantly. That's what driving our numbers,

With the prison population continuing to grow along with nearly a decade of
reductions in crime rates, observers said overly harsh sentencing laws, such as
mandatory minimum requirements for drug crimes and three-strikes repeat felon
laws, are to blame for the high incarceration rate.

"Mandatory sentencing laws for drug offenses are driving the skyrocketing prison
population and filling prisons with nonviolent offenders who are often addicts,
low-level dealers or conspirators, not the kingpins that mandatory sentencing
laws were intended to catch," said Monica Pratt, the spokeswoman for Families
Against Mandatory Minimums, a Washington group that advocates the repeal of
these types of laws.

More women infected with HIV
The effect of the decade-long increased incarceration rate is particularly stark
for minorities. Twelve percent of all black men between the ages of 20 and 39
sat in prisons or jails during 1999, compared to about 1.5 percent of white men
in that same age group. That trend, in turn, adversely affects black
communities, said one observer.

"The experience of incarceration has become very commonplace among black males,"
said Marc Mauer, the assistant director of the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit
group that seeks the reform of existing sentencing practices. "That is having
very serous consequences on their ability to gain employment and on their
eligibility as marriage partners."

The 5.5 percent increase in women prisoners also increased faster than the
overall growth rate. From July 1, 1998, to June 30, 1999, the number of women in
state and federal prisons grew from 82,662 to 87,199. In late January, a report
by the General Accounting Office, Congress' research arm, found that female
inmates suffered from higher rates of HIV infection and mental illness than male

"This nationwide increase is only going to put more pressure on social services
[that] don't have the capacity to serve everybody from the beginning," said
Vicki Zubovic, the director of development for the Women's Prison Association,
which provides HIV treatment, child care, job training and other services to
women in New York state prisons.

Lower level offenders released
But other observers said they took encouragement from prison population
reductions in nine states.

In Ohio, probation reform and a renewed focus on treatment for low-level drug
offenders has reduced the prison population by 4.5 percent from 1998 to 1998.

"We released some of the lower-level felony offenders back into the community
under supervision," said Joe Andrews, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of
Rehabilitation and Correction.

"I think it was felt that there were some people in prison who shouldn't have
been in prison, and that they could have been better sanctioned in the
community," Andrews said. "And that was our feeling as a prison system, too."

By Hans H. Chen, an APBnews.com staff writer.

Related Story: Number of Women Behind Bars Skyrockets

Related Story: U.S. Prison Population Hits Record

Related Story: Kids Likely To Follow Parents To Prison

H. C. Covington, Executive Director
I CAN! America,  LLC
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