11/30/2006 03:36 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Incarceration Nation: 1 in 32 Adults Behind Bars or Court Supervised, DOJ Report Shows

A record 7 million Americans - 1 in 32 adults - were behind bars, on probation or on parole by the end of last year, according to a report released today by the Justice Department.

Drug law violations play a disproportionate role. From 1995 to 2003, inmates in federal prison for drug law violations accounted for a 49 percent increase in prison population growth.

I think these numbers just don't register with most Americans. They only make sense when you point out that the United States has five percent of the world's population but 25 percent of the world's incarcerated population; that we rank first in the world in locking up our fellow citizens; and that we now imprison more people for drug law violations than all of western Europe - with a much larger population - incarcerates for all offenses.

Imagine what a difference it would make if we just stopped locking up people for nonviolent drug offenses.

My colleague Anthony Papa, communications specialist at the Drug Policy Alliance, spent 12 years behind bars for a first time nonviolent offense. According to Mr. Papa, "Many of the people I met were serving long sentences behind bars on drug charges and were not major drug dealers. They were people who sold drugs to support a habit. These individuals, their families and society would have benefited from receiving treatment, not jail time."

Join the Drug Policy Alliance and help end this inhumane drug war.