Wednesday, December 9, 2009

U.S. Prison Population Continues to Increase

The prison population in the United States edged up slightly last year, but the total number of inmates dropped in 20 states, including New York, Georgia and Michigan.

Justice Department figures released Tuesday showed the overall state and federal prison population is at an all-time high of 1.6 million and is still rising, but the rate of growth is slowing as states look for ways to cut the cost of justice.

Including people in jails, where some are held to await trial, the total number of people behind bars comes to 2.3 million. The government figures showed one out of every 133 residents in the United States was in prison or jail at the end of last year.


The good news is that Idaho is one of several states that is slowing its incarceration binge. Click the link to see the report Prisoners in 2008 from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The bad news is that Idaho, like the vast majority of states, still has far too many people in jail and prison that could be safely and efficiently managed in the community.

The bad news is that treatment programs are still too few and are being cut during times of budget austerity.

The good and the bad news is that America's prison binge is slowing, but for the wrong reason. Instead of asking policy makers if our current sentencing policies are working as intended, the comment now is that we can't afford to continue incarcerating at our current rate. While I am all for fiscal accountability, I am an even stronger proponent of what works and what doesn't.

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