With more than 2.3 million people behind bars at the start of 2008, the United States leads the world in both the number and the percentage of residents it incarcerates, leaving even far more populous China a distant second, noted the report by the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States.
Before you start chanting "We're number 1," consider the cost of living in Prison Nation:
More than one in 100 adults Americans is in jail or prison, an all-time high that is costing state governments nearly $50 billion a year, in addition to more than $5 billion spent by the federal government, according to a report released today.
If you're thinking "there must be a better way," you're right:
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The New York Times has an article today on communities that feed off the prisons within them. When America, prison nation, closes one of them, it can threaten the very existence of such towns.
As rural economies across the country crumbled in the 1980s and the population of prison inmates swelled, largely because of tougher drug laws, states pushed prison construction as an economic escape route of sorts. Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, an average of four prisons were built each year in rural America; the rate quadrupled in the 1980s and reached 24 a year in the 1990s, according to the federal Agriculture Department’s economic research service. The boom, experts say, provided employment, but it also fostered a cycle of dependency.
Count me among those with no sympathy. America's over-incarceration policies mean corporations make billions and the federal government throws millions to these communities in subsidies.
Take the town in the article, Gabriels, New York, which has a prison recently ordered closed by Gov. Spitzer. [More...]
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Call for prison reform are finally drawing attention from policy makers and members of the law enforcement community. Via the Scout Report at the University of Wisconsin:
- U.S. Prison system a costly and harmful failure
about recent JFA report.
- California a leader in number of youths in prison for life
- Crack cocaine sentence cut is stalled by retroactivity
- NPR: Should Sentencing Reform Be Retroactive? [Real Player]
- Unlocking America [pdf]
- Bureau of Justice Statistics
Within the vast world of pressing policy problems, system-wide prison reform in the United States has been a subject that has vexed even the most dedicated experts and committed activists. Over the past four decades, the prison population has risen eight-fold, and people have laid the blame on everything from mandatory sentencing laws to economic restructuring in America's manufacturing regions.
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Via Sentencing Law and Policy, the Senate's Joint Economic Committee (JEC) will hold a hearing this morning on ""Mass Incarceration in the United States: At What Cost?" The purpose is "to explore the economic consequences and causes of and solutions to the steep increase of the U.S. prison population."
The press release is here (pdf).
The United States has experienced a sharp increase in its prison population in the past thirty years. From the 1920s to the mid-1970s, the incarceration rate in the United States remained steady at approximately 110 prisoners per 100,000 people. Today, the incarceration rate is 737 inmates per 100,000 residents, comprising 2.1 million persons in federal, state, and local prisons. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but now has 25 percent of its prisoners. There are approximately 5 million Americans under the supervision of the correctional system, including parole, probation, and other community supervision sanctions.
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