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Number of US adults in prison on rise

Increase is tallied at 30% since 1995

WASHINGTON -- Nearly 7 million adults were in US prisons or on probation or parole at the end of last year, 30 percent more than in 1995, the Justice Department said yesterday.

That was about one in every 31 adults under correctional supervision at the end of 2004, compared with about 1 in 36 adults in 1995 and about 1 adult in every 88 in 1980, said Allan J. Beck, who oversaw the preparation of the department's annual report on probation and parole populations.

Beck attributed the overall rise in the number of people under correctional supervision to sentencing changes of the 1990s. The nation's incarcerated population has been increasing for more than 30 years, with sharp growth in the last decade.

He said crime rates have fallen in recent years, which helps account for slower growth among people on probation -- those allowed to live in the community with some restrictions rather than being incarcerated.

The number of people on probation in 2004 grew by 6,343 to about 4.2 million in 2004, the report said.

Nearly 50 percent of all probationers at the end of last year had been convicted of a felony. Twenty-six percent were on probation for a drug-law violation, and 15 percent for driving while intoxicated, the annual Justice Department report said.

Whites made up 56 percent of the probation population and only 34 percent of the prison population, according to yesterday's report and another Justice Department report released last month.

''White people -- for whatever reason -- seem to have more access to community supervision than African-Americans and Hispanics," said Jason Ziedenberg, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, which promotes alternatives to incarceration. He called probation a cheaper, more effective form of rehabilitation.

Blacks, he noted, made up 30 percent of probationers and 41 percent of prisoners at the end of 2004. Hispanics made up 12 percent of the probation population and 19 percent of the prison population.

The number of parolees grew fastest among those under correctional supervision. They are offenders who rejoin society with restrictions for a time after they complete a prison term.

The adult parole population grew 20,230, or 2.7 percent, during the year, more than twice the average annual increase of 1.3 percent since 1995, the report said. The total number of parolees at the end of 2004 was 765,355.

Beck said a late 1990s spike in prison populations is now showing up in the number of parolees, as the number of prisoners released rises. The parole population grew during 2004 in 39 states, with double-digit growth in 10 states, led by Nebraska's 24 percent increase.

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