[News] More than 11% young Black men in prison
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Feb 29 13:28:22 EST 2008
Link to complete report
New High In U.S. Prison Numbers
Growth Attributed To More Stringent Sentencing Laws
By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 29, 2008; A01
More than one in 100 adults in the United States is in jail or
prison, an all-time high that is costing state governments nearly $50
billion a year and the federal government $5 billion more, according
to a report released yesterday.
With more than 2.3 million people behind bars, the United States
leads the world in both the number and percentage of residents it
incarcerates, leaving far-more-populous
a distant second, according to a study by the nonpartisan
Center on the States.
The growth in prison population is largely because of tougher state
and federal sentencing imposed since the mid-1980s. Minorities have
been particularly affected: One in nine black men ages 20 to 34 is
behind bars. For black women ages 35 to 39, the figure is one in 100,
compared with one in 355 for white women in the same age group.
The report compiled and analyzed data from several sources, including
the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics and Bureau of Prisons and
each state's department of corrections. It did not include
individuals detained for noncriminal immigration violations.
Although studies generally find that imprisoning more offenders
reduces crime, the effect may be less influential than changes in the
unemployment rate, wages, the ratio of police officers to residents
and the proportion of young people in the population, report
co-author Adam Gelb said.
In addition, when it comes to preventing repeat offenses by
nonviolent criminals -- who make up about half of the incarcerated
population -- less-expensive punishments such as community
supervision, electronic monitoring and mandatory drug counseling
might prove as much or more effective than jail.
which has almost doubled its prison population over the past 15
years, has experienced a smaller drop in crime than
York, which, after a brief increase, has reduced its number of
inmates to below the 1993 level.
"There is no question that putting violent and chronic offenders
behind bars lowers the crime rate and provides punishment that is
well deserved," said Gelb, who as director of the Center's Public
Safety Performance Project advises states on developing alternatives
to incarceration. "On the other hand, there are large numbers of
people behind bars who could be supervised in the community safely
and effectively at a much lower cost -- while also paying taxes,
paying restitution to their victims and paying child support."
Q. Wilson, who in the 1980s helped develop the "broken windows"
theory that smaller crimes must be punished to deter more serious
ones, agreed that sentences for some drug crimes were too long.
However, Wilson disagreed that the rise in the U.S. prison population
should be considered a cause for alarm: "The fact that we have a
large prison population by itself is not a central problem because it
has contributed to the extraordinary increase in public safety we
have had in this country."
About 91 percent of incarcerated adults are under state or local
jurisdiction. And the report also documents the tradeoffs state
governments have faced as they devote larger shares of their budgets
to house them. For instance, over the past two decades, state
spending on corrections (adjusted for inflation) increased 127
percent; spending on higher education rose 21 percent.
Five states --
-- now spend as much as or more on corrections as on higher
is near the top, spending 74 cents on corrections for every dollar it
spends on higher education.
spends 60 cents on the dollar.
Despite reaching its latest milestone, the nation's incarcerated
population has been growing more slowly since 2000 than it did during
the 1990s, when harsher sentencing laws began to take effect. These
included a 1986 federal law (since revised) mandating prison terms
for crack cocaine offenses that were up to eight times as long as for
those involving powder cocaine. In the 1990s, many states adopted
"three-strikes-you're-out" laws and curtailed the powers of parole boards.
Many state systems also send offenders back to prison for technical
violations of their parole or probation, such as failing a drug test
or missing an appointment with a supervisory officer. A 2005 study of
system, for example, found that more than two-thirds of parolees were
being returned to prison within three years of release, 40 percent
for technical infractions.
"We're just stuck in this carousel that people get off of, then get
right back on again," said
Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton, who as
York City police commissioner in the 1990s oversaw a significant
reduction in crime.
Because of these policy shifts, the nationwide prison population
swelled by about 80 percent from 1990 to 2000, increasing by as much
as 86,000 a year. By contrast, from 2007 to 2008, that population
increased by 25,000, a 2 percent rise.
Supreme Court has recently issued decisions giving judges more leeway
under mandatory sentencing laws, and a number of states -- including
which has the country's second-highest incarceration rate -- are
seeking to reduce their prison population by adopting alternative punishments.
Last year, Maryland officials began developing a new risk-assessment
system to ensure that low-level offenders are not kept in jail longer
than necessary, said Shannon Avery, executive director of a policy
planning division of the state's Department of Public Safety.
"That's what you have to do when you don't have enormous amounts of
tax dollars available for building prisons," she said.
Among the early innovators that states can look to is Virginia, which
overhauled its system for sentencing nonviolent offenders in the
mid-1990s. Although the state's incarceration rate remains relatively
high, Virginia has managed to slow the growth of its prison
population substantially and reduce the share of its budget spent on
corrections while still reducing its crime rate.
State judges use a point system to weigh factors believed to predict
a lawbreaker's likelihood of becoming a repeat offender or otherwise
pose a threat to public safety. Those deemed low risk are given
alternative sentences. As a result, the share of Virginia prison beds
occupied by nonviolent convicts has dropped, from 40 percent in 1994
to 23 percent in 2007.
"The idea is to make a distinction between the people we're afraid of
and the ones we're just ticked off at," said Rick Kern, director of
the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission. "Not that you shouldn't
punish them. But if it's going to cost $27,500 a year to keep them
locked up, then maybe we should be smarter about how we do it."
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the News