The US is The Number 1 Jailer in the World

March 24, 2008

We’re Number One! The United States incarcerates more bodies than any other nation on the planet earth-even Russia, even India, even than China. This premier spot is not only in terms of percentages of prisoners per total population, but also in terms of raw numbers.

The United States has 2,319,258 of its people locked away in jails, while China has only 1.5 million prisoners in spite of its 1.3 billion population and our population of 230 million. Our per capita percentages are 750 per 100,000 people, compared to Russia’s 625 per 100,000. In the United States, there are 1,596,127 prisoners in state and federal prisons and 723,131 prisoners in local jails.

The Pew Center on the States also tells us that all 50 US states combined spent $49 billion on corrections in the year 2007, up from $11 billion twenty years earlier. Our rate of increase in corrections costs was six times greater than for the increase on spending on higher education. The inmate population increased in 2007 in 36 states and in the federal system.

This growing inmate population is taking money from state budgets that cannot afford the extra money, yet is having no apparent impact on recidivism or overall crime, the report said. States are trying to be creative to cut costs without appearing to be “soft on crime.” Kansas and Texas have acted decisively to slow the growth of inmate population, making more use of community supervision for low-risk offenders and using penalties other than reimprisonment for those who technically violate their rules for probation or parole.

The largest percentage increase was in Kentucky (12%), where the state’s governor pointed out that crime has increased only 3 % over the past 30 years, while the state’s inmate population has increased 60%.  The annual cost per prisoner averaged in the US at $23,876, from Rhode Island’s $44,860 to Louisiana’s $13,009 per prisoner. California spent $8.8 billion for corrections in 2007 (with a $16 billion shortage in their budget), while Texas spent $3.3 billion for corrections.

State budgets average 6.8 % of their general funds on corrections, from Oregon’s 10.9 % to Alabama’s 2.6% of general funds. Vermont, Michigan, Oregon, and Connecticut now spend more on corrections than on higher education.

The breakdown of men behind bars is one in 30 men between the ages between 20 and 34, but for black males in that age group, it is one in 9 of the national population.

This is one instance, where I believe, being number one is not a good thing. It is time to look at our overall system and other alternatives to locking up people and throwing away the keys…. Alternatives like faith and character based voluntary programs in prison. Those programs (which could be a whole other topic of discussion at another time) have had a higher rate of success and I believe they should be offered on a widespread basis.

Perhaps these shocking statistics will cause our correctional system do some serious “remodeling” to fix it’s broken system.

Parole System Broken?

March 11, 2008

The Oklahoma Sentencing Commission voted on January 24, 2008, to limit the role of the governor in the parole process. This follows a million dollar audit of the Department of Corrections by an independent audit company. One of the recommendations of the audit was that removing the governor from decisions of parole would stop all growth in the state’s prison inmate population.

The Sentencing Commission itself had previously suggested to the legislature in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2007 that the governor be removed from the parole process.

The audit recommended the governor be removed from the parole process in either of two ways: either to amend the state constitution to delete the governor’s signature as a requirement for paroling nonviolent offenders, or to require the governor to be involved at the request of a district attorney or a crime victim. The Sentencing Commission’s vote did not address either particular fashion and chose to leave the specifics up the legislature.

Meanwhile, a proposal by Rep. Sue Tibbs of Tulsa would automatically approve any parole application that sits on the governor’s desk for more than a month. This proposal would not require any amendment of the state constitution.

Everyone in the state recognizes that the prison population has grown out of control, or, if not out of control, out of the means for the state to fund it. Year after year the Department of Corrections needs more millions of dollars, and the percentage of parolees continues to drop.

We Oklahomans want to lock up every offender as long as possible, but we really are not willing to pay for it. We are not willing to spend our millions of dollars on more prison beds and leave our highways, schools, and hospitals without funding.

This same audit found that Drug Courts have not had a measurable impact on prison admissions, and they are therefore not fulfilling their purpose. The Drug Courts were created to reduce the prison population, to divert only those bound for prison who qualify as simple drug offenders, to participate instead in out-of-custody Drug Court. It seems that some District Attorneys in that state pursue the intended purpose strictly, and others have sent to Drug Court a number of drug offenders who would not otherwise go to prison.

The success of Drug Courts acclaimed by nearly everyone in the state may require a second look.