Friday, February 29, 2008

SPECIAL NEWS ALERT: 1 in 100 US Adults in Prison, All-time US Record, World's Highest Rate

For the first time in the nation's history, 1 in every 100 adults in the United States is behind bars. Fully 1% of the adult population is in prison. The US incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world, including Communist China, with a population more than 4 times the size. The US Justice Dept. calculates incarceration as measure of the total population; by its standard, 1 in every 130 Americans is in prison, including every man, woman, child and senior citizen.

According to the report form the Pew Center on the States: among certain groups, the numbers are even more alarming: among the Hispanic-American population, 1 in 36 adult men is incarcerated; among adult African Americans, 1 in 15 is in prison, while 1 in 9 black men between the ages of 20 and 34 is imprisoned (fully 11% of African American men between 20 and 34).

While the rate of Americans incarcerated has increased four-fold in the last 3 decades, incidents of violent crime have decreased by only 25% since the early 1980s. According to the International Herald Tribune, the Pew report "also found that one in 355 white women ages 35 to 39 is behind bars, compared with one in 100 black women."

The Pew center's managing director, Susan Urahn, is quoted as saying "We aren't really getting the return in public safety from this level of incarceration", while Prof. Paul Cassell, of the University of Utah, himself a former federal judge, argues (without the benefit of a comprehensive survey of case-files, evidentiary procedures, or the variation of incarceration threshold from place to place, "it would be a mistake to think that we can release any significant number of prisoners without increasing crime rates. One out of every 100 adults is behind bars because one out of every 100 adults has committed a serious criminal offense".

On the efficacy of escalating incarceration rates, The Washington Post reports that "Florida, which nearly doubled its prison population over the past 15 years, has experienced a smaller drop in crime than New York, which, after a brief increase, reduced its number of inmates to below the 1993 level."

King's College London's International Center for Prison Studies reports that Germany incarcerates roughly 93 of every 100,000 people, while the US rate is 750 per 100,000 (counting children, elderly and disabled). Spending on prison systems is now beginning to rival education and healthcare spending, with some states already seeing these vital services eclipsed.

The state of Vermont now spends 37% more on correctional facilities than it does on public universities and colleges. Paraphrasing State Sen. Richard Sears, WCAX-TV, from Vermont, reports "The cost of holding one female inmate at the Dale Correctional facility in Waterbury is almost more than tuition for six resident students at the University of Vermont".

With the cost of healthcare increasing at an unsustainable rate of 10% per year over the last several years, and government-funded healthcare programs increasingly pressed for revenues, state governments are facing difficult choices. Inner cities where municipal tax money may go equally to fund public schools and correctional facilities, see themselves drained of funding for schoolbooks, information technology, building-code upgrades and above all, top-quality faculty.

Oregon has the highest percentage of its general budget devoted to corrections, followed by Florida and then Vermont. According to the same Pew report that detailed incarceration rates, the 50 state governments combined spent in excess of $49 billion, 4.5 times the $11 billion spent two decades ago. The increase in prison spending was six times the increase in funding for higher education over the same 20-year span.

1 comment:

Thomas J. Hanson said...

At we did a post on the topic looking at the costs as the relate to investment in education:

Perhaps the post would be of interest to your readers.

Tom Hanson

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