More than 5.1 million Americans -- almost 2.7 percent of the adult population -- were under some form of correctional supervision at the end of 1994, according to a report released on August 27 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a division of the US Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ report stated that 2,962,000 adults were on probation at the end of last year, and another 690,000 were on parole.
In a subtle piece of spin control, however, DOJ neglected to include in its press release what many would consider to be the most important figure -- the total number of people incarcerated in state and federal jails and prisons. At the end of 1994 there were 1,483,500 prisoners in the United States; because jail and prison populations are growing so rapidly, the total is now well over 1 1/2 million.
Using figures presented in the press release, a reader would have to perform a minimum of two arithmetical operations to discover this startling fact. The 4-page report that accompanied the release included two full page tables on probation and parole, but only presented the total incarceration figure in a small box on the last page. Evidently most reporters don't carry calculators, as the bulk of the report's media coverage included only the probation, parole and total correctional supervision figures.
More information on Department of Justice statistics can be obtained from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Clearinghouse, Box 179, Annapolis Junction, MD 20701-1079; (800) 732-3277. The identifier for the 8/27 report is NJC-156432.