WASHINGTON: The US prison population, already the largest in the world, reached a new high of more than 2.1 million last year, with one in every 138 residents of the country now behind bars, according to new government statistics.
The data, made public by the Bureau of Justice Statistics on Sunday, put the US far ahead of countries like China and Russia, whose combined population is about five times that of America.
"The numbers are pretty consistent with what they have been in the last few years," Justice Department statistician Paige Harrison, a co-author of the report, said. "We are seeing continued growth in prisons and jails, but at a lower rate than we had about 10 years ago."
The study shows the number of inmates across the country rose an estimated 48,452 people, or 2.3 per cent, in the 12-month period ending on June 30, 2004.
In other words, the system was adding to its ranks on average 932 individuals every week. The rate of incarceration reached a record of 726 inmates per 100,000 residents — up from 716 a year earlier.
By comparison, the current incarceration rate in Britain is 142 per 100,000 citizens, in China 118, in France 91, and in Japan 58, according to the Justice Policy Institute.
US federal prisons that house most drug offenders accounted for the largest increase of the prison population — 6.3 per cent.