Almanac: America's jailed population

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(CBS News) And now a page from our "Sunday Morning" Almanac: October 27th, 1994, 19 years ago today . . . the day the Justice Department reported that for first time the number of inmates in federal and state prisons had exceeded one million (1,012,851, to be exact).

And that number didn't even include inmates at local jails.

America's prison ranks had been soaring since the early 1970s, when rising urban crime provoked an emotional backlash, which Michael Jacobson, then the head of the non-partisan Vera Institute of Justice, characterized for our Martha Teichner last year:

" 'Tough on crime,' 'three strikes you're out,' 'let 'em rot, 'throw away the key' -- all that stuff resulted in more mandatory sentencing, longer and longer sentencing."

The cost of a nation of incarceration

For years, the federal and state prison population kept on growing, giving America a distinction Jacobson, among others, sees as dubious:

"The United States has about five percent of the world's population, but we have 25 percent of the world's prisoners," he said. "We incarcerate a greater percentage of our population than any country on Earth."

America's prison population peaked at just over 1.6 million in 2009, and since then has been in a slight decline.

California, under a Supreme Court ruling to reduce severe overcrowding, decreased its prison population last year by 15,000 inmates.

More than two dozen other states also reduced their inmate ranks, in many cases because of the high cost of incarceration (on average, just over $31,000 a year per prisoner).

So is the decline in the prison population merely temporary -- or is it a sign of something more permanent?

The figures for 2013 won't be out until NEXT year.

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