Study: Prisons Grew Under Clinton

AP National, Feb. 18, 2001

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) –– Tough policies, more prisons, more police officers and longer sentences led to more Americans going to prison or jail during the Clinton administration than during any past administration, says a new report from a think tank.

During President Clinton’s eight years in office, 673,000 people were sent to state and federal prisons and jails, compared with 343,000 during President Bush’s single term and 448,000 in President Reagan’s two terms, says a study by the Justice Policy Institute, an arm of The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

The center advocates more balance between incarceration and treatment for criminals.

The incarceration rate at the end of the Clinton administration was 476 per 100,000 citizens, versus 332 per 100,000 at the end of Bush’s term and 247 per 100,000 at the end of Reagan’s administration, the study said.

Incarceration rates for blacks increased to 3,620 per 100,000 from around 3,000 per 100,000 people during Clinton’s two terms.

Two million people are behind bars and 4.5 million are on probation and parole, according to the study, which is based on Justice Department figures and estimates from 1993 to 2000.

The study blamed the surge in prisoners on Clinton administration initiatives that provided more money to states for prisons, police officers and crime prevention programs. The 1994 crime bill, which gave $30 billion to states, was a major factor, said Vincent Schiraldi, president of the Justice Policy Institute. Other factors included tougher sentencing and the abolition of parole, he said.

Republicans are thought to have more punitive crime policies than Democrats, but the opposite was true during the Clinton administration, Schiraldi said.

”President Clinton stole the show from the ‘tough on crime’ Republicans,” he said.

”President Clinton stole the show from the ‘tough on crime’ Republicans,” he said. Allen Beck, chief of corrections statistics at the Bureau of Justice Statistics, disputed the notion that Clinton administration crime initiatives were the prime reason for the burgeoning prison population.

He said many states had already begun tough crime prevention programs before Clinton came to office and tougher sentencing guidelines for federal drug offenders began in the late 1980s.

Moreover, Beck said, people are staying in jail longer because parole boards are not releasing prisoners.

”It’s not that more people are going to prison, rather people in prison are staying longer,” he said.

Schiraldi urged President Bush to make good on a campaign promise to provide $1 billion to states for local drug treatment programs.

During the campaign, Bush said the surge in the number of prisoners in recent years ”is a necessary and effective role of government –– protecting our communities from predators.” He advocated using charities and religious–based groups to help the children of prisoners and providing money for a pilot prison ministries program.