Rose M. Burt


Since the mid-1970s, the United States has engaged in a "race to incarcerate" that has resulted in a prison population expanded to a level previously unknown in any democratic society. This rise in imprisonment came about primarily because of "tough on crime" policies that were intended to enhance public safety and respond to the demands of an increasingly conservative population. This record three decade increase in imprisonment has resulted in an average annual prison population rate of more than 2,000,000 people behind bars in United States jails and prisons, and that figure increases exponentially each year. During this thirty-year period, the number of prison inmates has increased over 600%. In 2002, over 7,000,000 people were incarcerated in federal, state, or local jails or prisons nationwide. One in every thirty-seven adults, nearly six 7 million people, has spent time in prison.

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