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May 21, 2006

US incarceration rate hits another new high

Thanks to this tip from TalkLeft, I see that the Bureau of Justice Statistics has released this report, "Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005," which documents yet another increase in the overall incarceration rate in the United States.  Highlights from the report can be found in this press release, in this preview page, and in this AP article about the report.

As is often the case, the remarkable state-to-state variation in incarceration rates always intrigues me (especially when the federal Justice Department rails about the importance of national sentencing uniformity).  Consider, for instance, this factoid:

Louisiana and Georgia led the nation in percentage of their state residents incarcerated (with more than 1 percent of their state residents in prison or jail at midyear 2005). Maine and Minnesota had the lowest rates of incarceration (with 0.3 percent or less of their state residents incarcerated).

Some recent additional posts about incarceration rates:

May 21, 2006 at 09:18 PM | Permalink


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I'm a concerned citizen and blog reader
that is distressed by the newly released statistics. However,I cannot say that I
am surprised! The U.S. Dept of Justice thanks in no small part to the FSG
have been actively engagaing in incarcerating individuals especially in the impovershed African American
community for decades now. Personally,I have a loved one currently incarcerated in the Federal Bureau of Prisons where he has been for past 15 years! He was
convicted of a conspiracy.. and unfortunately received too harsh a sentence. A sentence that resulted in
further loss and financial hardship to the family as civil forfeitures ensued.
In addition, since his trial was in 1991 recent rulings offer little hope.
Our story is yet another tragic example of of a very broken judicial system that
does not examine core societal issues and remains bent on punishment!

Posted by: stephanie mclean | May 21, 2006 9:48:38 PM

This might not be remarkable if it were not occurring in the fact of steadily declining crime rates. What is more interesting is that the contrast between the rate of crime and the rate of punishment is hardly even remarked upon in the press. I heard a lengthy (for the broadcast media) analysis of the incarceration situation on NPR that only mentioned in its last few sentences, and purely in passing, the fact that crime was down (and did not note the depth of that decline).

The NPR report attributed the increase to earlier, long sentences imposed and the number of aging prisoners still incarcerated under them. I doubt that that's the whole story.

Finally, there was previously a close correlation between states with low incarceration rates which had populations that were relatively ethnically homogenous, and those with populations with sharp ethnic divisions in their populations, which had high rates. Looks like that's still true. Compare Georgia and Louisiana on the one hand, with Maine and Minnesota on the other.

Posted by: David Lewis | May 22, 2006 9:37:02 AM

Maybe as you have known America has waged a war of attrition on the Black male ever since slavery. It seems as if the government is trying to sentence African Americans longer to keep our numbers at a reasonable rate. It is not the fact that African Americans are more inclined to commit criminal activies, when there are according to the fact that there is more Caucasins in this country than african americans! Also there is a mandatory sentencing for the distributors of crack that is harsher than the possesion of cocaine. Seemingly the Caucaziods deal mainly in cocaine not crack so to give their people a break it has been deigned to ostricize the lowest level of the "game" by sentencing them more than the Caucazoids. It is a shame that they have to resort to manipulation of the laws to accomplish their agenda, and the African Americans will obliged them all the way. Truly the African American have fallen for the trap set by those who do not have the moral conviction to have a fair card game, they must play with a stacked deck. It is no coincidence that the rates of incarceration have risen in the face of dwindling crime statistics, it must be part of the plan.

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