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California and the West

Federal and State Prison Populations Soared Under Clinton, Report Finds

Justice: An analysis of federal statistics shows that more inmates were added than during any previous administration.

February 19, 2001|GREG KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The federal and state prison populations rose more under former President Bill Clinton than under any other president, according to a report from a criminal justice institute to be released today.

In fact, the analysis of U.S. Justice Department statistics by the left-leaning Justice Policy Institute, a project of a San Francisco-based justice center, found that more federal inmates were added to prisons under Clinton than under presidents George Bush and Ronald Reagan combined.

"I remember thinking when Bill Clinton got elected that we would have a chance to turn things around," said Vincent Schiraldi, president of the institute, a project of the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice. "But I think we read the tea leaves wrong."

From opposing a federal commission's push for equalization of drug sentences for powder cocaine and crack cocaine to embracing a 1994 crime bill that accelerated the rate of prison construction, the Democratic president often stole the show from "tough-on-crime" Republicans, the study said.

In doing so, it said, he left a record that did not square with his rhetoric on such topics as easing mandatory sentences.

While calling as recently as last fall for a review of the nation's prison policies, Clinton presided over an administration that, in its first term, saw an additional 277,000 prisoners incarcerated in federal and state facilities, according to the study. That number compared with 243,000 prisoners during Bush's four years in office and 129,000 during Reagan's first four years in office.

During Clinton's eight-year tenure, the total population of federal and state prisons combined rose by 673,000 inmates--235,000 more than during Reagan's two terms.

In California, the state prison population rose from 105,467 in 1992 to 161,401 as of last June, according to California Department of Correction figures.

Although most of the national increase in incarceration occurred in state-run prisons, the study found that the number of prisoners under federal jurisdiction doubled during the Clinton years and grew more than during the previous 12 years of Republican control of the White House.

Nearly 60% of those sentenced to federal prison during the Clinton administration are serving time for drug offenses, the study said. The total number of people in federal prison on drug charges--63,448--is 62% more than the number in 1990.

The dramatic increase in prison populations was attributable to several factors, Schiraldi said, including the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which earmarked $30.2 billion over six years for, among other things, new state prisons. One condition for receiving the federal funds, he noted, was that states scale back early paroles and adopt sentencing policies requiring that inmates serve more time in prison.

Also contributing to the increase, Schiraldi said, were tougher three-strikes sentencing laws adopted in more than 20 states, including California, during 1994 and 1995.

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