US Attorney: 1 in Every 100 US Adults Are in Prison or Jail

Melanie Arter | July 11, 2014 | 2:28pm EDT
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In this photo taken Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, prisoners from Sacramento County await processing after arriving at the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

( – U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia Timothy Heaphy told the House Judiciary Committee’s Over-Criminalization Task Force Friday that nearly one in every 100 adults in the U.S. is in prison or jail – a rate five to 10 times higher than western Europe and other democracies.

“Incarceration rates in this country have skyrocketed. Our nation now has the greatest number of prisoners of any country in the world,” said Heaphy. “Nearly one in every 100 adults in America is in prison or jail – a rate that’s five to 10 times higher than rates in Western Europe and other democracies.

“Such extensive use of prison is expensive and unsustainable,” said Heaphy, one of four witnesses who testified at the hearing on the over-federalization of criminal law.

Heaphy cited statistics from a Bureau of Justice Statistics report, “Correctional Populations in the United States 2012,” which shows that one in 108 adults were incarcerated in jail or prison. The statistics said that in 2012, 920 per 100,000 adult Americans were incarcerated.

“Currently, our state and federal government spend about $74 billion a year on incarceration,” Heaphy testified, adding that federal spending on prison and detention amounts to almost a third of the Department of Justice’s overall operating budget compared to only about a quarter in 2000.

Heaphy called on Congress to take up sentencing reform legislation, specifically H.R.3382, the Smarter Sentencing Act, introduced in 2013 by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), which among other things, amends the federal criminal code to give courts greater latitude in sentencing drug offenders than statutory minimum sentencing guidelines call for.

It also amends the Controlled Substances Act and the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act to reduce mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses.

Heaphy said reducing mandatory minimums would allow the DOJ to re-allocate funds to “other critical public safety priorities while enhancing the effectiveness of our federal sentencing system.”

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