Saturday, September 04, 2010

For Republicans Who Live to Save Money

James Austin, Todd Clear, Troy Duster, David F. Greenberg, John Irwin, Candace McCoy, Alan Mobley, Barbara Owen, and Joshua Page. Unlocking America: Why and How to Reduce America’s Prison Population. Washingotn, D.C.: The JFA Institute, 2007.

In 2007, there were 196,429 people in Federal and state prisons. In 2006, there were 1.6 million inmates. In addition, there were another 750,000 in jails.

In sum, there were eight times more people imprisoned in 2997 than in 1970.

Approximately $60 billion was spent annually on prisons. If the inmate population continues increasing, especially if it continues increasing faster than the population growth rate, this spending will escalate.

The crime rate has not varied much. The driving force in the increase in prison population is the increased length of sentences given to those incarcerated.

About 730,000 are admitted to Federal and state prisons annually (circa 2006). About two thirds are admitted due to parole or probation violations. About 40% of those readmitted are sent back for drug violations, for noncriminal technical parole or probation violations, or for property crimes.

This prison population increase is the result of policy decisions to increase probation and parole surveillance, reduce transition to society programs, decrease support systems for released inmates, and increase the obstacles released inmates face when reentering society.

The increase in the number of prisoners is also credited to the most widespread use of mandatory minimum sentences, truth in sentencing laws requiring the bulk of sentences to be served, less use of early release for good behavior while imprisoned, and parole board that have granted fewer paroles.

American sentences are the longest of any Western nations. They are twice longer than in England, three times longer than in Canada, four times longer than in Holland, five times more than in Sweden, and five to ten times longer than in France. Each of these countries has lower rates of violent crimes and similar rates of property crimes than found in the U.S.

A major cause of the increase in inmates in state prisons from the late 1980s on was the longer sentences given to those convicted of drug offenses.

The longer sentences have been found to have a small impact on crime rates. The impact was so small that some previous advices of increased sentences, such as James Q. Wilson, John DiIulio, and Edwin Meese no longer support longer sentences.

60% of prisoners are African American or Latino.

8% of all African American males are imprisoned. 21% of African American males aged 25 to 44 have been imprisoned at some time.

The U.S. (circa 2006) imprisons 737 people per 100,000 people. This is the highest incarceration rate of any nation. Russia is second with 581 imprisoned per 100,000.

The U.S. imprisons the most people, in total, at around 2.2 million. China is second with 1.5 million imprisoned.

In 2002, the estimated economic costs of crimes to victims was $15.6 billion. The cost of the criminal justice system was over $200 billion.

The average loss reported per robbery was $1,258 (circa 2006). The average served sentence for robbery was 60 months (of an average sentence of 94 months and an average of 6 months spent awaiting trial) at a cost of $113,000.

One third of all males are arrested at least once as juveniles. More than half of all males will be arrested at least once in their lifetimes.

James Thomas and Elizabeth Torrone published an American Journal of Public Health article in2006 connecting higher incarceration rates to higher rates of single parent births among teenagers and sexually transmitted diseases among females.

A Russell Sage Foundation study associated higher rates of HIV among African American females due to higher incarceration rates of African American males.

Approximately five million have lost their right to vote due to state laws removing the right to vote from convicted felons. Approximately half of these are African Americans. Christopher Uggen and Jeffrey Manza claim this has politically weakened the African American community.

The National Academy of Science determined in 1978 that most criminal careers are short lived, lasting only a few years. Only a small group remains in crimes for much longer periods. The majority of criminals cease their crimes over passing age 25. Most ceased criminal activities after finding permanent employment, joining the military, or getting married.

No one has devised a useful predictive model to forecast who will become a career criminal. The U.S. Justice Department claimed to have one yet it proved to be a failure over time. Yet, this claim was one of the arguments given for increasing prison sentences.

Recidivism is not a major contributor to the increase in prison population. Prison rehabilitation programs were not seen as being a significant factor in decreasing prison population.

A study of 291 evaluations of in-prison and community adult offender treatment programs finds 42% of the programs had little impact on recidivism rates. Some even had higher recidivism rates. These programs were boot camps, electronic monitoring, restorative justice, faith based programs, domestic violence programs, and behavioral/psychotherapy for sex offenders.

The programs that did reduce recidivism were treatment and rehabilitative programs. People who sought to enter these programs found better success than those forced into the programs. The recidivism rates for those completing these programs decreased by about 10%. The rate was such that the California Inspector General determined the $1 billion spent on prisoner drug treatments were not justifiable expenses. Some programs increased the prison population due to imprisoning people who failed to meet program requirements.

This report states “treatment programs are necessary and humane, but they are not answers to the crisis of prison overpopulation.”

The high incarceration of African Americans and Latino males probably contributes to negatively stereotyping them. This makes it difficult for them to obtain employment.

The public, according to public opinion polls, tends to believe criminal sentences are not harsh enough.

The report recommends decreasing sentences, not allowing increases in sentences that are not proportional to the increased severity of the crime, and not allowing increased prison terms in hopes of reducing recidivism. In recommends, overall, that prison sentences should be reduced.

This report recommends not making imprisonment the main punishment for technical parole or probation violators. The average imprisonment of technical violators in Louisiana was 20 months (circa 2006). In contrast Washington’s maximum punishment for technical violators was 60 days.

This report recommends shorter supervisory time for those on parole and probation. Research suggests there is no relationship between increased supervision and reduced recidivism.

The report recommends decriminalizing victimless crimes, especially those concerning recreational drugs. Drug offenses represent 31% of all prison admissions.

The report recommends improving prison conditions. People respond better to human treatment. Prisoners should be safe, prisoners should not be cruelly punished, and prisoners should have access to health care, education and treatment assistance, and post-release programs.

Former prisoners should be allowed to vote. (This is not an issue in Pennsylvania.)

This report believes implements its recommendations would cut the prison population by more than half.


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