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A new report, published by the National Research Council, has revealed some shocking statistics about the increase in how many prisoners there are in the U.S. Yet despite the dramatic increases, the report also classifies any effect this country’s policies on crime have had as highly uncertain.

According to the report, between the years 1973 to 2009, the number of inmates in this country increased from 200,000 to 2.2 million. Currently, the U.S. has almost 25 percent of the number of prisoners being held worldwide. Yet the U.S. only has five percent of the world’s population.

Although the numbers show that the number of people incarcerated has risen, they also reveal the lack of any consistent pattern in crime rates. In the 35 year time frame the researchers studied, violent crime rates increased and fell several times. In their report, the study’s authors offered this explanation:

The best single proximate explanation of the rise in incarceration is not rising crime rates, but the policy choices made by legislators to greatly increase the use of imprisonment as a response to crime. Since the 1970s, these policies have come to include the war on drugs, mandatory minimums for drug crimes and violent offenses, three-strikes laws and 'truth-in-sentencing' mandates that require inmates to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.

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