Statistics released today by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), a branch of the US Department of Justice, show that at the end of 2006, more than 2.25 million persons were incarcerated in US prisons and jails, an all-time high. These figures show that the United States incarcerates more people per capita than any other country, and highlights the need to consider alternative criminal justice policies, Human Rights Watch said today.

Statistics released today by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), a branch of the US Department of Justice, show that at the end of 2006, more than 2.25 million persons were incarcerated in US prisons and jails, an all-time high. This number represents an incarceration rate of 751 per 100,000 US residents, the highest such rate in the world. By contrast, the United Kingdom’s incarceration rate is 148 per 100,000 residents; the rate in Canada is 107; and in France it is 85. The US rate is also substantially higher than that of Libya (217 per 100,000), Iran (212), and China (119).

“These figures confirm an unenviable record: the United States is the world’s leading prison nation,” said David Fathi, director of the US program at Human Rights Watch. “Americans should ask why the US locks up so many more of its citizens than do Canada, Britain, and other democratic countries. The US is even ahead of governments like China that use prisons as a political tool.”

The US prison population has increased approximately 500 percent in the last 30 years, and continues to grow. The 2006 increase was the largest one-year jump in the last six years. The per capita incarceration rate has also increased steadily, from 684 per 100,000 residents in 2000 to 751 per 100,000 in 2006.

The new BJS figures also show sharp racial disparities in US incarceration rates, with black men incarcerated at a rate 6.2 times higher than white men. Nearly 8 percent of all black men ages 30 to 34 in the United States were incarcerated as sentenced prisoners at the end of 2006.