The number of adults under supervision by the criminal justice system rose by 147,700, or 2.3 percent, between 2000 and 2001, the Justice Department reported. In 1990, almost 4.4 million adults were incarcerated or being supervised.
"The overall figures suggest that we've come to rely on the criminal justice system as a way of responding to social problems in a way that's unprecedented," said Marc Mauer, assistant director of the Sentencing Project, an advocacy and research group that favors alternatives to incarceration. "We're setting a new record every day."
Almost 4 million people were on probation, 2.8 percent more than in 2000, while the number of people in prison grew by 1.1 percent to 1.3 million, the smallest annual increase in nearly three decades. More than half of those on probation — 53 percent — had been convicted of felonies, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report.
Experts noted the recent trend of arrests declined for murder, rape and other violent crimes. Many of those on probation were convicted of using illegal drugs or driving while intoxicated, the report showed.
In addition, some states have eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes. California's Proposition 36, passed in 2000 with 61 percent of the vote, requires treatment rather than incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders. Most of those drug users wind up on probation.
"The collection of reforms, from drug courts to treatment in lieu of incarceration to sentence reforms like getting rid of mandatory minimums and expanding community correction options, have the effect of redirecting people from prison to probation," said Nick Turner, director of national programs for the Vera Institute of Justice. The nonprofit research group works with governments on criminal justice issues.
The government report found that 46 percent of those discharged from parole in 2001 had met the conditions of supervision, while 40 percent went back to jail or prison for violations.
Texas had more adults under correctional supervision than any other state, 755,100. California was second with 704,900. Texas also had the most adults on probation, 443,684, followed by California at 350,768.
Whites accounted for 55 percent of those on probation, while blacks made up 31 percent, statistics show. On the other hand, 46 percent of those incarcerated were black and 36 percent were white.