This is an American tragedy.
A new study by the Pew Center has found that 7.32 million American adults were in prison, on parole or on probation in 2007, a tripling over the last 25 years.
Folks, that makes it 1 in every 31 American adults in prison, on parole or on probation. For Blacks, the numbers are a depressing 1 in 11.
If you take the prison and jail population alone, the incarcerated population in America is 2.3 million. That is, 1 in 100 Americans is behind closed doors.
In our view, these are some of the key reasons for the explosive growth of people in prison, on parole or probation in America:
* Growth of the prison-industrial complex or private companies running prisons
*Â Demand from the people for stiff sentencing laws after media reports of horrific crimes
* Harsh sentencing laws like California’s Three-strikes law that leave little leeway for judges
* Racism that causes Blacks to go to prison for long durations for minor crimes
* Lack of spending on rehabilitation programs
* High rate of recidivsm
According to Pew, in the past two decades, state general fund spending on corrections has increased by over 300%, outpacing other essential government services like education, transportation and public assistance.
Apparently, only Medicaid spending has grown faster.
Pew calculates that corrections imposes a national taxpayer burden of $68 billion a year, an increase of 330% since 1986. Here’s what the Pew study has to say on how the money is spent:
The largest beneficiaries of those mushrooming budgets, by far, have been prisons. For the most part, probation, parole and other programs that manage offenders outside prisons and jails have scrambled for funds needed to keep pace with expanding caseloads of offenders with increasingly complex and demanding problems.
In fiscal year 2008, for 34 states for which data is available 88% of the corrections expenditure went to prisons and just 12% to parole and probation.
Even after all this humongous spending, it seems recidivism rates have remained largely unchanged.
And the state of many prisons is pretty bad.
Overcrowding in prisons, lack of adequate health care and violent outbreaks are only some of the problems bedeviling U.S. prisons. The Los Angeles Times recently wrote that California’s prisons designed to hold 84,000 inmates now hold 158,000.
In the study, titled One in 31: The Long reach of American Corrections, the Pew Center makes the following recommendations to address America’s Correctional crisis:
* Sort offenders by risk to public safety to determine appropriate levels of supervision
* Base intervention programs on sound research about what works to reduce recidivism
* Harness advances in supervision technology such as electronic monitoring and rapid-result alcohol and drug tests
* Impose swift and certain sanctions for offenders who break the rules of their release but who do not commit new crimes
* Create incentives for offenders and supervision agencies to succeed, and monitor their performance
But given the lobbying power of the private corporations, conservative nuts on TV and the current financial crisis on Wall Street consuming so much time and attention of our leaders, the chances of meaningful reform in the American correction system anytime soon are very slim.