Thursday, November 30, 2006

In Case You Forgot...

AP -- A record 7 million people — or one in every 32 American adults — were behind bars, on probation or on parole by the end of last year, according to the Justice Department. Of those, 2.2 million were in prison or jail, an increase of 2.7 percent over the previous year, according to a report released Wednesday.

More than 4.1 million people were on probation and 784,208 were on parole at the end of 2005. Prison releases are increasing, but admissions are increasing more.

Men still far outnumber women in prisons and jails, but the female population is growing faster. Over the past year, the female population in state or federal prison increased 2.6 percent while the number of male inmates rose 1.9 percent. By year's end, 7 percent of all inmates were women. The gender figures do not include inmates in local jails.

"Today's figures fail to capture incarceration's impact on the thousands of children left behind by mothers in prison," Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based group supporting criminal justice reform, said in a statement. "Misguided policies that create harsher sentences for nonviolent drug offenses are disproportionately responsible for the increasing rates of women in prisons and jails."

From 1995 to 2003, inmates in federal prison for drug offenses have accounted for 49 percent of total prison population growth.

The numbers are from the annual report from the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics. The report breaks down inmate populations for state and federal prisons and local jails.

Racial disparities among prisoners persist. In the 25-29 age group, 8.1 percent of black men — about one in 13 — are incarcerated, compared with 2.6 percent of Hispanic men and 1.1 percent of white men. And it's not much different among women. By the end of 2005, black women were more than twice as likely as Hispanics and over three times as likely as white women to be in prison.

Certain states saw more significant changes in prison population. In South Dakota, the number of inmates increased 11 percent over the past year, more than any other state. Montana and Kentucky were next in line with increases of 10.4 percent and 7.9 percent, respectively. Georgia had the biggest decrease, losing 4.6 percent, followed by Maryland with a 2.4 percent decrease and Louisiana with a 2.3 percent drop.


Brother Afrocan said...

Before we even delve into the racial inequities inherent in the prison system, I think we need to first take a broader analytical look at the American society. The US is the world's biggest jailer, a title the country snatched in 1998 when it overtook the former Soviet Union as the world’s foremost jailer with an incarceration rate of approximately 690 prisoners per 100,000 citizens. By comparison, that is almost 6 times Canada’s incarceration rate (115), over 12 times Greece’s rate (55), 19 times Japan’s rate (37) and 29 times India’s rate of 24 prisoners per 100,000 citizens. The US comprises 5% of the world's population, yet has fully 25% of the world's prisoners. According to the November Coalition, a drug law reform group, the US has a higher proportion of its citizens in jail than any other country -- in all of history.

Although like all demographic data these numbers are open to dispute, I think they are startling statistics to say the least. Given that one cannot blame America's jail happy proclivity to income inequality (see India) or even politics (see the undemocratic China), I think the statistics reveal some underlying cultural inclinations that are held by all Americans, white, black or brown. It would appear that Americans have little faith in criminal rehabilitation and perhaps depend too heavily on incarceration as a solution to maintaining law and order. As a closet Bill O’Reilly listener (yeah that’s right! I occasionally listen to his radio show on my way to work, though I think the way it gets my blood boiling is unhealthy), he is often stirring up public opinion to burn some poor judge at the stake for issuing what he calls a lenient sentence. I think this reliance on incarceration as a solution is exercised even more vociferously when dealing with racial tensions. Large segments of the minority population are continually sent to prison by a white dominated jury almost like an exasperated parent sending a child to ‘time out’ in his room. It is a convenient way to push aside an issue that is hard to deal with or even understand.

Brother Smartness said...

I'm really glad you wrote about this Afrocan. Those numbers are startling and it's evident that state funds and resources have been misappropriated in light of this.

I, too, derive some pleasure from listening to O'Reilly. It's interesting how reporting has become more entertaining than informative.