Sunday, March 02, 2008

1 in 100 U.S. Adults Behind Bars, New Study Says

Published: February 28, 2008

For the first time in the nation’s history, more than 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.

The report, from the Pew Center on the States, also found that only one in 355 white women between the ages of 35 and 39 are behind bars but that one in 100 black women are.

The report’s methodology differed from that used by the Justice Department, which calculates the incarceration rate by using the total population rather than the adult population as the denominator. Using the department’s methodology, about one in 130 Americans is behind bars.

Either way, said Susan Urahn, the center’s managing director, “we aren’t really getting the return in public safety from this level of incarceration.”

But Paul Cassell, a law professor at the University of Utah and a former federal judge, said the Pew report considered only half of the cost-benefit equation and overlooked the “very tangible benefits — lower crime rates.”

In the past 20 years, according the Federal Bureau of Investigation, violent crime rates fell by 25 percent, to 464 for every 100,000 people in 2007 from 612.5 in 1987.

“While we certainly want to be smart about who we put into prisons,” Professor Cassell said, “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.”

Ms. Urahn said the nation cannot afford the incarceration rate documented in the report. “We tend to be a country in which incarceration is an easy response to crime,” she said. “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, 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.

In 2007, according to the National Association of State Budgeting Officers, states spent $44 billion in tax dollars on corrections. That is up from $10.6 billion in 1987, a 127 increase once adjusted for inflation. With money from bonds and the federal government included, total state spending on corrections last year was $49 billion. By 2011, the report said, states are on track to spend an additional $25 billion.

It cost an average of $23,876 dollars to imprison someone in 2005, the most recent year for which data were available. But state spending varies widely, from $45,000 a year in Rhode Island to $13,000 in Louisiana.

The cost of medical care is growing by 10 percent annually, the report said, and will accelerate as the prison population ages.

About one in nine state government employees works in corrections, and some states are finding it hard to fill those jobs. California spent more than $500 million on overtime alone in 2006.

The number of prisoners in California dropped by 4,000 last year, making Texas’s prison system the nation’s largest, at about 172,000. But the Texas legislature last year approved broad changes to the corrections system there, including expansions of drug treatment programs and drug courts and revisions to parole practices.

“Our violent offenders, we lock them up for a very long time — rapists, murderers, child molestors,” said John Whitmire, a Democratic state senator from Houston and the chairman of the state senate’s criminal justice committee. “The problem was that we weren’t smart about nonviolent offenders. The legislature finally caught up with the public.”

He gave an example.

“We have 5,500 D.W.I offenders in prison,” he said, including people caught driving under the influence who had not been in an accident. “They’re in the general population. As serious as drinking and driving is, we should segregate them and give them treatment.”

The Pew report recommended diverting nonviolent offenders away from prison and using punishments short of reincarceration for minor or technical violations of probation or parole. It also urged states to consider earlier release of some prisoners.

Before the recent changes in Texas, Mr. Whitmire said, “we were recycling nonviolent offenders.”

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

What role does the economy play in sentencing of individuals?
How are some states dealing with increasing prison populations?
What point was the author trying to make by mentioning Drunk Drivers in Texas?
According to the article is the justice system blind to race and ethnic backgrounds?

9 comments:

M. Harmon said...

It seems like the economy has a very big role in sentencing individuals. If the city has enough money then the justice system has no problem throwing people in jail. But if the budget is tight, then the cases are looked at more carefully. Texas is starting to "recycle" prisoners. Now that there's less money, states are removing nonviolent offenders, such as drunk drivers who didnt kill anybody, and making them get help instead of staying in jail. I think that the justice system isnt blind to race and ethnic background. While sometimes I feel law enforcers might watch certain races more carefully than others, even if that werent true, I think the justice department calculates incarceration rates differently for each race so the statistics seem worse for one than the other. Do you think the justice system is really trying to make certain races look bad or its just a coincidence?

Anonymous said...

Courteney Richardson

I agree with megan when she says that the economy has a huge role in sentencing people. I personally feel that the more money the city has, more indivuals go to jail. But it amazes me how much people are in jail. The united states has more people in the system then any other country. So that shows me that the city has more then enough money. But when the city starts to loose moeny what are they going to do with the prisoners inside the jails and people who are awaiting to be sentence? To answer megans question , I THINK* THAT THE CITY ISNT TRYING TO MAKE THE CERTAIN RACES LOOK BAD , I THINK THAT PERSON FROM THAT RACE IS MAKING THAT RACE LOOK BAD! If that makes any sense at all.

Courtney Wilson said...

I couldn't believe that there were 1 out 100 adults in jail. But when I heard that 1 out of 9 African-American males were also in jail, I was speechless. This makes going to school a slight harder knowing that 3 people in our graduating class would most likely be going to jail Even more of my friends could be affected by the other statistic. To answer Megan's question, I believe that the statistics may have something to do with the fact that the justice system tries to make minorities look bad. But, i must admit that there is a level of uncertainty because I don't know what any of these people were convicted of.

Do you think that the justice system is fair to all individuals or are the more likely to discriminate on minorities?

Anonymous said...

The tax dollars of the American people pay for the prisons and
“rehabilitation” of prisoners. Therefore, the more people that are
convicted, the more tax dollars are spent on the upkeep of prisons, and less on services such as healthcare and education. If money is needed to help other things in the economy, then people who commit lesser criminal offenses may receive more lenient sentences so less money is spent on the criminal
justice system.
Some states are dealing with increasing prison populations by spending more money on prisons. Other states, such as Texas, are making changes to their corrections systems by expanding drug treatment programs and drug courts, as well as revising their parole practices.
The author was making the point that people who commit nonviolent criminal offenses shouldn’t be punished by getting serious prison time. Instead, they should be punished and given treatment in other ways, such as a D.W.I. offender getting his license taken away and having to go to mandatory Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. This would put less of a stain on the prison
budget and nonviolent offenders would also receive a second chance.
According to the article, the justice system isn’t blind to race and ethnic backgrounds because the statistics show that there are higher incarceration rates among Hispanics and African Americans.

-Anta R.

Anonymous said...

Manpreet Kaur

States are dealing with increasing prision populations by, " On average, states spend almost 7 percent on their budgets on corrections, trailing only healthcare, education and transportation. In 2007, according to the National Association of State Budgeting Officers, states spent $44 billion in tax dollars on corrections.It cost an average of $23,876 dollars to imprison someone in 2005, the most recent year for which data were available.
This quotes tells how three states are dealing with this issue, "But state spending varies widely, from $45,000 a year in Rhode Island to $13,000 in Louisiana. The cost of medical care is growing by 10 percent annually, the report said, and will accelerate as the prison population ages. About one in nine state government employees works in corrections, and some states are finding it hard to fill those jobs. California spent more than $500 million on overtime alone in 2006. The number of prisoners in California dropped by 4,000 last year, making Texas’s prison system the nation’s largest, at about 172,000."
I agree with Megan, Courtney. Why do you think the reports differ in the Justice Department and the other report?

Anonymous said...

There is a lot of people going to jail I wonder why? what were they sent there for and did they really do the crime that they are put away for? I am not happy with are system. Are system needs to change. you must be wondering why i am saying this well this is because the cops can't get and detane a person even though you called them ad told them there are people in front of my house stalking me and are threting my chiled. They come you say their they are go get them the cops say we need a statment first ok we gave a statment then they say ok well were are they we are going to look for them. Well your smart cause now you want to look for them and they are gone. They also wanted to put the person away that beat up the boy that was fallowing him, threating and going after him because he was attaked first and all the papers say the othere boy started and did it but yet he gets off and the one that was getting harassed got the bad end still. I also think that once someone is in jail for some time when they are free they will go back with in a year most likely. I also think we are paying to much taxes on jails and they should be cut.
-Kristen Fitz

Anonymous said...

As megan asked i do not believe the justice system is tryin to make one certain race look bad i just believe this is how things are. But i also do believe that the justice system may "miss calculate" the amount of a certain race that are incarcerated. Do you believe things will change or will the sytem always treat different races different.

Matthew Morrison

Vickie said...

I was also shocked when I read that on average states are spending $24,000 to incarcerate people. Do you think that the government spends anywhere near that amount of money on our education or healthcare? We are all entering a time in our lives when money is becoming a very large issue, because our parents have to pay for us to go to college. The government is spending the equivalent of one private college education per year on criminals. I am fully in support of taking hardened criminals off the street, but we can't waste our resources on people who have committed menial crimes such as buying drugs one time, or as it stated in the article driving while intoxicated.

My mom is a parole officer and she sees people everyday who have just been released from prison. But the problem is that many times she sees the same faces returning to her office year after year. Once a person has gone to prison it is very likely that they will go back. People who have been incarcerated ,especially at a young age, have no education and lose their ability to be a functional member of society, so they revert back to their old ways. If we did not arrest these people at a young age and instead made them seek help in other ways, we would be stopping the vicious cycle, saving their lives, and the lif of our economy that is being sucked dry by the millions we spend on our prisions.

Anonymous said...

I think that the economy plays a huge role when sentencing certain individuals. As the economy grows the taxes get bigger. When we read about the difference in out of state prison cost to instate prisons I was amazed. I was ready to say lets ship all of them out and save a little money. There is a bigger problem then that we have way to many prisoners in the U.S. I think that a drunk driver shouldn’t be treated the same way as a convicted killer. I think that the drunk driver should be summoned, go to a center to help them with there problem or do some mandatory community service.
J Dilan