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Two Million Americans are now Behind Bars
One of every 147 people is now in one of America's prisons or jails. The total now approaches two million people. It was 1,860,520 inmates at the last official accounting nearly a year ago in mid-year 1999. That is a record for industrialized nations and the number has more than doubled since 1990 with an annual average growth rate of 4.6 percent throughout  the decade.

This represents a major mission opportunity and challenge for the Adventist Church. It is a group of people larger than most of the "target areas" for which the GC Office of Global Mission raises millions of dollars each year.

California and Texas have the largest population of inmates, about a quarter of the total. Louisiana leads the nation in the percentage of state residents behind bars, with 8 inmates for every 1,000 Louisianans, compared with the national average of 5 prisoners for every 1,000 Americans. Louisiana's sprawling Angola prison farm facility, with 18,000 acres, is the largest prison in the South and one of the largest in the United States.

Every state is 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. Vermont has experienced the greatest increase in prison population. With nowhere inside the state to house 350 overflow inmates, the state pays about $6 million, or about 10 percent of its annual budget, to rent prison space from authorities in Virginia and New Jersey.

Even though there has been an across-the-board reduction in crime rates over the same decade, the prison population continues to grow. Why? Experts say it is due to 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. The annual survey of state corrections officials conducted by the Federal Department of Justice shows that most want the laws revised.

Ethnic minorities are particularly hard-hit by the decade-long increase in prisoners. 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. "The experience of incarceration has become very commonplace among black males," says Marc Mauer, the assistant director of the Sentencing Project which has researched this topic. "That is having very serious consequences on their ability to gain employment and on their eligibility as marriage partners."

Trend Analysis Report - Source: American Prison Bureau news service and Bureau of Justice Statistics, DOJ