Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34.
One in nine black men between 20 and 34. It boggles my mind. The next president of the United States needs to ask some questions, and it would be nice if this was a campaign issue right up there with universal health care, and here's why:
In the past 20 years, according the Federal Bureau of Investigation, violent crime rates fell by 25 percent, to 464 for every 100,000 people in 2007 from 612.5 in 1987.
So why are incarceration rates increasing when violent crime in decreasing? I want answers. And so should the states which are increasingly facing a financial burden due to this escalation in prisons.
Now, with fewer resources available, the report said, “prison costs are blowing a hole in state budgets.” On average, states spend almost 7 percent on their budgets on corrections, trailing only healthcare, education and transportation.
In 2007, according to the National Association of State Budgeting Officers, states spent $44 billion in tax dollars on corrections. That is up from $10.6 billion in 1987, a 127 increase once adjusted for inflation. With money from bonds and the federal government included, total state spending on corrections last year was $49 billion. By 2011, the report said, states are on track to spend an additional $25 billion.
The biggest problem is most likely the lengthy incarceration rates related to drugs.
The number of prisoners in California dropped by 4,000 last year, making Texas’s prison system the nation’s largest, at about 172,000. But the Texas legislature last year approved broad changes to the corrections system there, including expansions of drug treatment programs and drug courts and revisions to parole practices.
“Our violent offenders, we lock them up for a very long time — rapists, murderers, child molestors,” said John Whitmire, a Democratic state senator from Houston and the chairman of the state senate’s criminal justice committee. “The problem was that we weren’t smart about nonviolent offenders. The legislature finally caught up with the public.”
He gave an example.
“We have 5,500 D.W.I offenders in prison,” he said, including people caught driving under the influence who had not been in an accident. “They’re in the general population. As serious as drinking and driving is, we should segregate them and give them treatment.”
Aside from referencing drugs in general, the article did not mention the number of those in prison for marijuana-related convictions. And you can bet many of those were not even arrested for driving while high. Possession alone can get you a long vacation in the Big House courtesy of (and at great expense to) the American taxpayer. So the next time you complain about roads and highways in need of repair, or pick any other need for which there is inadequate funding -- there are lots to choose from -- remind yourself of this:
It cost an average of $23,876 dollars to imprison someone in 2005, the most recent year for which data were available.
It's time we got our priorities straight regarding who deserves to be in prison.
UPDATE: txrad found this interesting link to Grits for Breakfast (henceforth added to my blogroll) which sheds some light on the issue locally here in Texas.
Harris County sends black folks to prison on drug charges at 19 times the rate it sends white people, while in Dallas the ratio is just 9-1.
Similarly, Travis County (Austin) has an amazing 31-1 ratio. (That is NOT a typo!) While in my experience there's no shortage of white drug offenders in Austin, clearly nearly all the enforcement resources go toward policing and prosecuting drug crimes in the black community, which makes up about 11% of the overall county population.
Whatever the reason, it's not simply because black folks do drugs more often. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2005 illegal drug use rates were 8.1 percent for whites, 7.2 percent for Hispanics, and 8.7 percent for blacks.
We have a problem. I can now safely add "racism" to the tags below.