America’s Passion for Prisons Continues
Last week, the U.S. government released the latest prison and jail population statistics. Just when it seems our prison population cannot get any larger, the larger it gets. Already far ahead of the rest of the world in both sheer volume of inmates and in per capita rate of incarceration, last year the number of people jailed in this country grew by another 2.8%, with growth experienced in both federal and state prisons.
Even more shocking, despite growing awareness that this country has become the Land of the (Un)Free, this past year's increase in absolute and percentage terms was the largest in six years. And these numbers do not even include juveniles held in secure facilities or people being held in immigration detention centers.
Out of every 100,000 people in America, 750 are now behind prison or jail bars. In Louisiana, 835 per 100,000 residents are in state or federal prison.
In California alone, the prison population grew by 20%; in Georgia, 9%; in Florida, 8%.
Whereas since 1995 the number of juveniles in state prison had declined, this past year increased 7.1%.
While the number of people being released from prison each year is also rising (and thus compounding the numerous reentry challenges ex-prisoners face), the increase is outpaced by prison admissions, resulting in the above-mentioned growth.
As always, the criminal justice system continues to have a disparate impact on African-Americans. We have reached depressing depths: almost 5% of all black men are behind bars (compared to less than 1%%of white men), while more than a whopping 11% of those between 24 and 35 are not free.
Incarceration rates for women continue to grow at a higher rate than for men (4.8% to 2.7%); and while the media works itself into a frenzy over the jailing of Paris Hilton and Martha Stewart, America is imprisoning black women at four times the rate of white women.
Despite this ever-increasing human rights problem, our presidential candidates greet the issue (if they bother introducing themselves to it at all) with apathy instead of outrage. Only Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel grasp the devastating short- and long-term effects of the drug war and its accompanying prison frenzy. Gravel was a lonely voice during the recent Democratic debate about race when railing against the drug war's massive detentions.
Since no serious political contender for the White House is willing to take on the frenetic over-incarceration of people in this country, which has flourished under the watch of President Bush, the problem will not merely fester, but continue to spread ferociously nationwide, as it has now for many years, as politicians and prison builders infected with the "prison plague" reap political and financial rewards for putting more people in jail --- especially poor people and people of color.