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Ezekiel Edwards

Here’s To A Change in Criminal Justice Policies in 2007

The Department of Justice sent me little gifts for the holidays, each containing an up-to-date statistic (through the end of 2005) about our criminal justice system. The wrapping was pretty, but not what was inside. Here's a sample of what each little box contained:

--- the prison population grew 1.9% over the past year

--- the United States has 2,320,359 people incarcerated

--- in 1995, America sentenced 411 people per 100,000 residents; today it is 491

--- there are around 600,000 more people in jail today than 10 years ago

--- since 1995, the total number of male prisoners has grown 34%; female prisoners have risen 57%

--- if you incarcerated every person in the U.S. Virgin Islands, it would equal the number of women incarcerated in the United States

--- 39 states experienced a growth in their prison populations, some over 10%

--- including people on parole and probation, the total correctional population in America grew by almost 2 million between 1995 and 2005 (from 5,342,900 to 7,056,000); since 1990, that number has increased by 2.5 million (or by 57%)

--- there are at least 1.2 million more people on parole or probation than there were 10 years ago

--- in the past 25 years, the rate of adult residents under correctional supervision nearly tripled (from 1,117 per 100,000 to 3,150 per 100,000)

--- there are more people on probation in Texas and California than there are residents of San Francisco

--- state and federal inmates held in private prisons increased 8.8% and 9.2%, respectively

--- federal prisons were operating at 34% above capacity; 23 states reported operating at 100% or more of their higher capacity

--- Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate at 797 per 100,000; the states with the five lowest incarceration rates are overwhelmingly white (Maine, Minnesota, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and North Dakota)

--- 40% of inmates serving a sentence of one year or more are African-American

--- 8.1% of African-American men between the ages of 25 to 29 are in prison (compared to 1.1% of white men in the same age group)

--- in the age groups 30-34 and 35-39, per 100,000 residents, there are 7,726 and 6,630 African-Americans in prison, respectively, in contrast to 1,172 and 1,067 whites

--- Per 100,000 residents, there are 156 African-American women in prison, compared to 45 white women

--- half of all state prisoners are held for non-violent offenses

--- state prisons hold over 337,000 people for drug and public-order offenses

--- 55% of federal prisoners were sentenced for drug offenses, compared to 10% for weapons offenses

--- the number of people sentenced to federal prison for a drug offense increased 65% between 1995 and 2003

--- in 2003, there were 16,688 people in federal prison for a violence offense, compared to 86,972 for drug offenses

--- the percentage of white, African-American, and Hispanic men in prison for violent offenses is almost equal; but the percentage of African-American and Hispanics incarcerated for drugs is 23.7 and 22.9, whereas for whites it is 14.3

--- almost one-third of female prisoners are being held for a drug offense

--- one-third of the people on probation were convicted of a drug offense

--- the successful completion rate for people on probation is lower than it was in 1995

And yet, despite our zealous mass incarceration policies, unparalleled globally, violent crime is on the rise in the United States. If you tell me that the answer, then, is more prisons and harsher sentences, you have not been paying attention for the past quarter-century.

As one of its desperately-needed New Year's resolutions, America should abandon its war on drugs and put an end to the profit-driven prison industrial complex, instead reallocating its resources towards building stronger communities, improving public education, investing in small businesses and job-training programs, and expanding its rehabilitative drug and mental health initiatives. Instead of building more prisons, it should be tearing them down.

So here's to 2007, and to the hope that our criminal justice policies take a turn for the better.

Ezekiel Edwards: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 7:00 AM, Dec 26, 2006 in Criminal Justice | Prisons | Racial Justice
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