Thursday, February 28, 2008

It's Official:

1 in 100 U.S. Adults Now Incarcerated:

For the first time in the nation’s history, one in 100 American adults is behind bars, according to a new report.
Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million. Another 723,000 people are in local jails. The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars.

Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34.
If you delve into the report, it notes that the incarceration proportion is 1 in 53 for all adults in their 20's, an astonishing figure. And the overall incarceration rate for adults is now 750 per 100,000 population, a figure making us the "Global leader" in incarceration.

Also interesting in the report is that southern states continue to lead the country in booming incarceration numbers, while more populous states such as California and Texas experienced declines.

Texas is noted in the report for re-directing its funding allocation in corrections to programs such as diversion and treatment, simply because the state was running out of money to build and operate more prisons. California is also noted for its reduction in imprisonment as the state sought to de-emphasize "technical violators" of probation and parole (who fill more than half of all prison beds annually).
Either way, said Susan Urahn, the [Pew] center’s managing director, “we aren’t really getting the return in public safety from this level of incarceration.”

“We tend to be a country in which incarceration is an easy response to crime,” Ms. Urahn continued. “Being tough on crime is an easy position to take, particularly if you have the money. And we did have the money in the ’80s and ’90s.”

Now, with fewer resources available to the states, the report said, “prison costs are blowing a hole in state budgets.” On average, states spend almost 7 percent on their budgets on corrections, trailing only healthcare, education and transportation.

As the report concludes, "As a nation, the United States has long anchored its punishment policy in bricks and mortar. The tangible feel of a jail or prison, with its surefire incapacitation of convicts, has been an unquestioned weapon of choice in our battle against crime. Recent studies show, however, that a continual increase in our reliance on incarceration will pay declining dividends in crime prevention. In short, experts say, expanding prisons will accomplish less and cost more than it has in the past."

Let's hope from a political capital point of view, this translates into a more sane correctional philosophy beyond "lock 'em up and throw away the key."

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