The U.S. Justice Department announces that the U.S. prison population has topped one million for the first time in American history. The figure—1,012,851 men and women were in state and federal prisons—did not even include local prisons, where an estimated 500,000 prisoners were held, usually for short periods. The recent increase, due to tougher sentencing laws, made the United States second only to Russia in the world for incarceration rates.
Of the characteristics of the prison population, the vast majority of prisoners were male and behind bars on drug-related convictions, while there was an extremely disproportional number of African Americans behind bars compared with their distribution in American society as a whole—more than half the nation’s prisoners were African American, while African Americans made up only 13 percent of the overall U.S. population. This racial imbalance was also present in the 2,890 prisoners under sentence of death in 1994—42 percent of the prisoners on death row were African American.