U.S. prison population reaches all-time high
For the first time in history, about one in every 100 adults in America is in jail or prison—an all-time high that is costing state governments nearly $50 billion a year and the federal government an estimated $5 billion more.
The statistics were compiled in a study titled One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008. The study was conducted by the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States, which is part of the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonpartisan organization with offices in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Information for the study was based on data supplied by the Association of State Correctional Administrators, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Association of State Budget Officers, the U.S. Census Bureau and other sources.
The study reports that at the start of 2008, 2,319,258 adults were incarcerated in American prisons or jails—or one in every 99.1 men and women. During 2007, the prison population rose by more than 25,000 inmates. As a result, the United States leads the world in both the number and percentage of individuals who are incarcerated.
Information reveals that minorities have been particularly affected. According to the most recent U.S. Department of Justice data (2006), while one in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars, the figure is one in nine for black males in that age group.
Men are still roughly 13 times more likely to be incarcerated, but the female population is expanding at a brisk pace. For black women in their mid- to late-30s, the incarceration rate also has hit the one-in-100 mark. In addition, one in every 53 adults, aged 20 to 29, is behind bars, while the rate for those over 55 is one in 837.
States bear increased costs
According to the report, 36 states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons saw their prison populations increase in 2007. As a result, states’ correctional costs have risen substantially. Twenty years ago, the states collectively spent $10.6 billion of their general funds—their primary discretionary dollars—on corrections. Last year, states spent more than $44 billion in general funds—a 315 percent jump—and more than $49 billion in total funds from all sources. Coupled with tightening state budgets, the greater prison expenditures may force states to make tough choices about where to spend taxpayers’ money, according to the Pew report.
“States are paying a high cost for corrections—one that may not be buying them as much in public safety as it should,” said Susan K. Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States. “Spending on prisons may be crowding out investments in other valuable programs that could enhance a state’s economic competitiveness. Some state policy-makers are experimenting with a range of community punishments that are as effective as incarceration in protecting public safety and allow states to put the brakes on prison growth.”
According to the Pew report, some states are attempting to protect public safety and reap corrections savings by holding lower-risk offenders accountable in less-costly settings and using intermediate sanctions for parolees and probationers who violate conditions of their release.
Some states are currently implementing a mix of community-based programs such as day reporting centers, treatment facilities, electronic monitoring systems and community service—tactics recently adopted in Kansas and Texas. Another common intervention, used in Kansas and Nevada, is making small reductions in prison terms for inmates who complete substance-abuse treatment and other programs designed to cut their risk of recidivism.
The Pew report offers state-by-state comparisons of prison counts and demographics of offenders, as well as discusses strategies that some states are enacting to reduce prison populations and maintain public safety.
To view the entire 37-page report, include state-by-state data and methodology, visit http://pewcenteronthestates.org/.