IMAGE: Boulder jail
Paul Aiken / AP file
Custody areas at Boulder County Jail in Colorado.
updated 11/30/2006 6:13:32 AM ET 2006-11-30T11:13:32

A record 7 million people -- or one in every 32 American adults -- were behind bars, on probation or on parole by the end of last year, according to the Justice Department.

Of those, 2,193,798 were in prison or jail, an increase of 2.7 percent over the previous year.

Even though data show more prison releases, the report said, admissions still exceed releases. More than 4.1 million people were on probation and 784,208 were on parole at the end of 2005.

Men still far outnumber women in prisons and jails, but the female population is growing faster. Over the past year, the population females in state or federal prison increased 2.6 percent while the number of male inmates rose 1.9 percent. By year's end, 7 percent of all inmates were women.

"Today's figures fail to capture incarceration's impact on the thousands of children left behind by mothers in prison," Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based group supporting criminal justice reform, said in a statement Wednesday. "Misguided policies that create harsher sentences for nonviolent drug offenses are disproportionately responsible for the increasing rates of women in prisons and jails."

From 1995 until 2003, inmates in federal prison for drug offenses have accounted for 49 percent of total prison population growth.

Racial disparities among prisoners persist. In the 25-29 age group, 8.1 percent -- about one in every 13 -- of black men are incarcerated, compared with 2.6 percent of Hispanic men and 1.1 percent of white men. And it is not much different among women. By the end of 2005, black women were more than twice as likely as Hispanics and over three times as white women to be in prison.

Certain states saw more significant changes in prison population. In South Dakota, the number of inmates increased 11 percent over the past year, more than any other state. Montana and Kentucky were next in line with increases of 10.4 percent and 7.9 percent, respectively. Georgia had the biggest decrease, losing 4.6 percent, followed by Maryland with a 2.4 percent decrease and Louisiana with a 2.3 percent drop.

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