Prison Population on the Rise?

The national crime rate has decreased over the past decade, but the number of people locked up hasn't. Florida inmates are coming more than they're going.

The population of the nation’s prisons and jails has grown about 900 inmates each week between mid-2003 and mid-2004. The Bureau of Justice statistics show Florida's prison population rose about 4,300, a growth rate outpacing most other states.

Sterling Ivey, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Corrections, says, "When you put us in comparison to Texas and California, we still have quite a ways to catch them, but nonetheless, our prison population’s increasing just as our state population's increasing."

The number of people in prisons and jails is outpacing the number of inmates released. This is attributed to laws now in place in Florida.

Rep. Curtis Richardson, (D) Tallahassee, explains, "The 'three strikes you're out,' the minimum mandatory sentences we've imposed, forcing prisoners to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences, so we're seeing an ever growing prison population."

Rep. Richardson says prison may not always be the answer.

"What we are going to have to do in Florida is look at some alternatives, because many of those individuals are drug addicted, have substance abuse problems and might not necessarily need incarceration, but need treatment in the community."

In 2004, 61 percent of prison and jail inmates were minorities, more than 50 percent in Florida. In this year's budget, Gov. Jeb Bush has requested funding for an additional 5,000 prison beds in Florida.