Thursday, February 28, 2008

1 in 100 Americans Are Behind Bars, Study Says

With the 1.6 million people in prison, the incarceration rate is now the highest in American history, according to a new report.

read more | digg story

The actual number of people incarcerated is close to 2.3 million, with jails holding the prison overflow. The business of incarceration has now become just that - big business. Here are some implications of becoming a prison nation:
  1. David Broder, columnist for the Washington Post, noted in a recent op ed that 700,000 people were incarcerated 20 years ago, but we are now releasing that many people from prison each year. As inmates re-enter the free world, the impact on communities will be significant. A recent bill from the Idaho legislature on transition housing illustrates the point.
  2. Employers may have to modify existing hiring policies in order to maintain staffing levels. Society increases the number of individuals labeled as felon and communities will have to deal with the swelling number of individuals who are unemployed and underemployed.
  3. Can we sustain the growth in correction budgets at the expense of education and heath and welfare? Do we want to raise taxes to incarcerate more people, including many low-risk non-violent offenders, for longer periods of time?
  4. What about our reputation internationally and domestically? Do we like the label "prison nation?"
  5. Has the criminal justice system lost its since of purpose? Has the process become too political by continuing to embrace the "get tough" philosophy of the 1980s and 90s in the face of research suggesting that this trajectory has had very little to do with the decline in crime?
Stay tuned for further developments as states struggle with policy issues such as juvenile waivers, prison construction, mandatory minimums, and capital punishment.

1 comment:

Dan Greenleaf said...

I think the methodology of this study is better than the USDJ where they count everyone, even though there is no possibility for the majority of the minors to be in prison. I think the statistic would also be more accurate if they excluded the extremely old. People over eighty are not going to go to prison if they are not already there. Probably the most interesting point was that there were 5,500 people in prison with people who have committed serious property and violent crime. This is not even touching the amount of people in prison for nothing more than possession of a controlled substance. These people are either victimized or forced to develop poor coping mechanisms in the current prison system in order to survive. Are we rehabilitating them or even deterring them? I think we are dehabilitating them and encouraging them to re-offend. Tax dollars hard at work.