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RECORD NUMBER IN CORRECTIONAL SYSTEM

A record 5.1 million Americans were either behind bars or on probation or parole at the end of last year, as prisons and jails overflow and the use of supervision in the community rises, the Justice Department reported Sunday.

The total number under some kind of correctional supervision amounted to almost 2.7 percent of the nation's adult population. Nearly three out of four were being supervised in the community on probation or parole rather than in cells, according to the department's Bureau of Justices Statistics.Since 1980, the number of people in prison or jail or on probation or parole has almost tripled, growing at an average rate of 7.6 percent a year and at an actual rate of 3.9 percent in 1994.

The resulting pressure on already overcrowded prisons and jails has pushed up the overall use of probation and parole, even though the federal government and some jurisdictions have eliminated parole for those who committed crimes in recent years.

Overall, the state and federal probation population rose 2 percent in 1994 and the overall parole population grew by 2.1 percent, the bureau said.

At the end of 1994, 2,962,000 adults were on probation and another 690,000 were on parole.

Parole is a conditional release from custody by special parole officials of prisoners who have served part of their sentence; they remain subject to being locked up again if they violate certain rules. Probation is imposed by judges and may or may not follow incarceration. Probation may have a variety of reporting requirements and rules, such as restrictions on travel or use of alcohol or drugs.

Three-fourths of the probationers and parolees were maintaining required, regular contact with a supervising agency, Justice said. The remainder were equally divided between those who were not required to have regular contact and those who had failed to report and could not be located.

Half of all offenders on probation in 1994 had been convicted of a felony; the rest of lesser crimes. One in seven probationers had been convicted of driving while intoxicated.

Of the parolees, 95 percent had served time behind bars for felonies; the rest had been incarcerated for lesser crimes.

About 21 percent of the nation's probationers were women, as were 10 percent of the parolees. About 58 percent of the adults on probation were white and 32 percent were black.