Sunday, November 06, 2005

Throw away the key

Correctional Populations

Click on image to see the data on which it's based.

It's been years since I've seen reports on incarceration in the U.S. I remember my shock when I first saw figures about the proportion of black males who are in jail or in one way or another being controlled by the criminal justice system. Now I can't say I'm pleased to see these. It's good to have the information made available, but what a dismal state of affairs.

First, here's a link to a press release from DOJ's Bureau of Justice Statistics (the capitalization of the heading is theirs): ALMOST 7 MILLION ADULTS UNDER CORRECTIONAL SUPERVISION BEHIND BARS OR ON PROBATION OR PAROLE IN THE COMMUNITY.

Second, a link to the AP follow-up to the release: Report: Correctional Supervision Rising. This article says, in part: "Blacks comprised 30 percent of probationers and 41 percent of prisoners at the end of 2004." It also says "Hispanics made up 12 percent of the probation population and 19 percent of the prison population." The BJS used to produce tables and charts showing racial characteristics but, so far as I can see, stopped doing so in 1997.

The news is bleak, but, an increase in incarceration doesn't necessarily mean that the number of convictions has increased. In fact I believe the national crime rate has not been increasing. Instead, the increase in the number of adults under correctional supervision is at least partly accounted for by what a DOJ statistician calls "sentencing reforms of the 1990s." I don't want to be guilty of leaping to conclusions, but, again at least partly, this seems to me to reflect a punitive attitude toward poverty and attendant social problems.

Third, this is Chris Bertram writing about all this in the CrookedTimber blog and redirecting us to other sources:
Land of the free

I don’t often just reproduce someone else’s post verbatim, but I just surfed over to the Virtual Stoa where Chris has the following from the US Department of Justice

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The number of adults in prison, jail, or on probation or parole reached almost 7 million during 2004, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. The number has grown by more than 1.6 million adults under correctional authority control since 1995.
The nation’s total correctional population was 6,996,500 in 2004, of which 4,151,125 were living in the community on probation; 1,421,911 were in a state or federal prison; 765,355 were living in the community on parole; and 713,990 were in jail, according to the BJS report on probation and parole. At year-end one in every 31 adults were under correctional supervision, which was 3.2 percent of the U.S. adult population…

As Chris says, wow.

Surfing over to Nationmaster —which uses the stats for 2003 and so has slightly fewer actual prisoners—I see that the US also has the highest absolute number of prisoners in the world (more than China!) , and the highest number per capita (715 per 100k). For comparison, the higher number per capita in the EU is 210 per 100k (Poland) and 144 for “older” Europe (Spain). For some reason the UK isn’t listed, but I think the figure works out at about 125.

Not-so-incidentially, it took me a lot of searching to find the image at the top of this post. It may be that our problem is not just the usual bias of conservatives in favor of coercion and against social welfare policies. The problem might also lie, to some extent, with a mainstream media that has ceased to care. As I say above, BJS seems to have stopped producing data by race. Why hasn't there been some in-depth reporting on this and why so great a reliance the superficial, top layer of the story?

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