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December 5, 2007

The latest BJS stats on prisoners, probation and parole in the land of the free

Among many holiday season traditions for sentencing fans is the release by the Bureau of Justice Statistics of its national head count of the number of persons in State and Federal prisons, and the number of persons on probation and parole, at yearend the prior year.  Here are links to these data-filled reports:

Here are some of the statistical highlights from this press release discussing both reports:

The U.S. adult correctional population — incarcerated or in the community — reached 7.2 million men and women, an increase of 159,500 during the year, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today in a new report.  About 3.2 percent of the U.S. adult population, or 1 in every 31 adults, was in the nation’s prisons or jails or on probation or parole at the end of 2006.

The number of men and women who were being supervised on probation or parole in the United States at year-end 2006 reached 5 million for the first time, an increase of 87,852 (or 1.8 percent) during the year.  A separate study found that on December 31, 2006, there were 1,570,861 inmates under state and federal jurisdiction, an increase of 42,932 (or 2.8 percent) in 2006.

During 2006 the number of inmates under state jurisdiction rose by 37,504 (2.8 percent). The number of prisoners under federal jurisdiction rose by 5,428 (2.9 percent).

In 2006 the number of prisoners in the 10 states with the largest prison populations increased by 3.2 percent, which was more than three times the average annual growth rate (0.9 percent) in these states from 2000 through 2005.  These states accounted for 65 percent of the overall increase in the U.S. prison population during 2006.  The federal system remained the largest prison system with 193,046 inmates under its jurisdiction.

December 5, 2007 at 08:22 PM | Permalink

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Comments

I am an on-going corrections student, picking up more pebbles as I go.
My question is, "is there a new law either coming into effect, or already in place...for reduction in sentences. ie. 10 days off for every 4 months,....etc. in the state of Ohio?"

Posted by: michelle ciardullo | Dec 5, 2007 11:10:42 PM

Although admittedly a radical suggestion, let me propose that the best way for people placed in the "correctional population" to avoid such placement is to cut out the behavior that causes it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 5, 2007 11:19:51 PM

"Crime is not an isolated action. It is impossible to fix the crime problem if the rest of the institutions that people rely on remain deeply broken....Only when the criminal justice system is supported by a good public education available to all children, sufficient affordable housing for families, accessible healthcare (especially mental healthcare), and jobs that pay living wages, can the community expect the crime rate to go down." - Bill Quigley - human rights lawyer and professor at Loyola University New Orleans

Criminal Judge Calvin Johnson, who has presided in criminal court for nearly 20 years, says over and over "We cannot arrest our way out of this problem."

http://www.blackagendareport.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=417&Itemid=33

Posted by: peter | Dec 6, 2007 4:00:31 AM

Although admittedly a radical suggestion, let me propose that the best way for people placed in the "correctional population" to avoid such placement is to cut out the behavior that causes it.

We all agree with that part, but it doesn't it still leaves the question whether, once they have made that mistake, the punishment is appropriate. Otherwise, there is no upper limit to the punishment that could theoretically be justified by saying, "Well, if they didn't want that punishment, they shouldn't have offended in the first place."

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Dec 6, 2007 11:53:46 AM

Wow, Michelle, you have solved the crisis. Now this site can close down and we can all go work on other issues.

Thanks!

Posted by: william | Dec 6, 2007 12:25:37 PM

Michelle;

Our prisons give 1.2 days of good time credit for each day served and our county jail gives 0.2 days good time credit for each day served. There is a sheriff in Texas who gives three days of good time credit for each day served and when a county commissioner complained she said would be happy to think about changing it to two days of credit per day served if they gave her $1.6 million. I would be very happy to think about something for $1.6 million.

Obviously good time credit can vary over a wide range. My guess is the good time factor is more likely to be determined by local circumstances rather than by state law. If the sheriff sets the good time factor too high the judge may object and compensate by increasing the sentence.

Posted by: John Neff | Dec 6, 2007 3:05:22 PM

Marc,

The BJS statistics Doug has posted don't tell us how much time is in the average sentence the inmate (or probationer, or parolee) in the "correctional population" is serving. For all the statistics say, it oould be an average of another ten days or another 50 years. Thus, the statistics don't give us much of a start on answering the question you pose, namely, what punishment is appropriate.

Statistics showing a relatively large number of incarcerated people can be misleading, particularly when they don't tell us anything about the crimes that gave rise to the incarceration -- and these don't.

And, with all respect, I don't think I'd call knocking over the gas station at 3 a.m., or selling LSD to a 17 year-old, or embezzling a couple of mil from the bank, merely a "mistake."

Bill

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 6, 2007 4:13:03 PM

Bill,

Although that particular study does not contain the statistics you're looking for, they aren't hard to come by. Examples of very long sentences for very minor nonviolent crimes aren't hard to come by. Take Weldon Angelos: 55 years for three small marijuana sales to a government informant. If you are actually curious about it, the data are readily available.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Dec 6, 2007 4:45:18 PM

Marc,

I don't know that I'd call carrying a pistol concealed in an ankle holster along with me on a drug deal either "minor" or "non-violent," but for however that may be, just today MSNBC reports the arrest of a twice previously convicted child molester for, this time, the murder of a four year-old.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22114607/

Having breezily been given repeat chances, the defendant finally got the message that we aren't serious, and cashed in.

Question: What is this guy doing out on the street?

Answer: "Evolving standards of decency"....as long as someone else's kid is paying the price.

Bill

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 6, 2007 5:01:27 PM

One number that sticks out is the number of people incarcerated for murder, which is between 150,000 and 160,000. Of them about 3,400, give or take, are on death row.

Thus, the death penalty is imposed in about 2% of murder cases.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Dec 6, 2007 5:57:26 PM

Bill wrote: “Although admittedly a radical suggestion, let me propose that the best way for people placed in the 'correctional population' to avoid such placement is to cut out the behavior that causes it.”

I agree. The behavior that causes crime is policy choices made by people like us that destabilize, stigmatize, and marginalize the poor and disadvantaged. Since we’re all smart enough to know that crime—even violent crime—is a function of social and economic inequality and instability, our conscious acts to maintain those policies in effect is nothing short of criminal. We should all accept personal accountability for our actions. And be ashamed.

Fajnzylber, Pablo, Daniel Lederman & Norman Loayza, 2002b. Inequality and Violent Crime, Journal of Law and Economics 45(1): 1-40.
Fajnzylber, Pablo, Daniel Lederman & Norman Loayza, 2002a. What Causes Violent Crime?, European Economic Review 46(7): 1323-1356.
Fajnzylber, Pablo, Daniel Lederman & Norman Loayza, 1998. Determinants of Crime Rates in Latin America and the World – An Empirical Assessment. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Posted by: DK | Dec 6, 2007 9:55:49 PM

Sure, DK. The "poor and disadvantaged" by all means have a get-out-of-jail-free card, since having less money means that a person lacks the ability to distinguish right from wrong.

Righto.

I suppose there are people who actually believe this, although fewer of them now that Marxist economic determinism has been so completely discredited.

I think the more probable reason this sort of thing still gets put forward, when it does, is to paint the face of intellectual refinement on good old fashioned excuse-making. At least it sounds better than the twinkie defense.

Bill

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 6, 2007 11:43:48 PM

See, this is the problem, Bill. You think your very words are true merely because you've spoken them, and you reject all accountability for the very real consequences of your policy choices. I haven't made excuses for anybody, nor have I suggested that anybody not be held accountable. All I've suggested is that people like you and me be held responsible for the choices and acts we've made. But you'll have none of it. The only person making excuses here is you.

Posted by: DK | Dec 7, 2007 9:53:46 PM

DK,

So the "poor and disadvantaged" ARE responsible for their behavior??!! Well good; I'm glad you think so. One could not have guessed that from your post, however, which spoke only of the responsibility of people who make "policy choices."

"See, this is the problem, Bill. You think your very words are true merely because you've spoken them..."

Complete baloney. I think they're true because they correspond to reality. Of course you can disprove that by quoting any passage where I state or imply that my words are true merely because I've spoken them. And that passage would be...........?


"...and you reject all accountability for the very real consequences of your policy choices."

More baloney. I accepted accountability for my "policy choices," not to mention everything else in my career, for the more than 18 years I represented the United States in federal court, appearing before judges who demanded, and got, accountability from me and my colleagues in the US Attorney's Office.

And evidence of YOUR accountability, DK, is.........?

"I haven't made excuses for anybody, nor have I suggested that anybody not be held accountable."

Sure....only when the question was who is accountable for knocking over the 7-11, or selling the LSD, your answer completely omitted mention of the criminal and instead spoke only of those making "policy choices." Now I suppose sticking a revolver in the 7-11 clerk's ear can be viewed as a "policy choice," but that's rather an odd way to put it, wouldn't you say?

"All I've suggested is that people like you and me be held responsible for the choices and acts we've made. But you'll have none of it."

See above. But I'll give you a specific example as well. One of my "policy choices" was to help implement Project Exile in Richmond, Virginia. Project Exile was a program where we (the United States Attorneys Office) took hoodlums who had previously been prosecuted for their gun crimes only in the state courts of Virginia, and charge them in federal court, where they faced being sent away for mandatory federal time (hence the "Exile" in Project Exile).

This was indeed a "policy choice." I was accountable for it, because one (or perhaps more than one) of the defendants appealled his federal conviction on grounds that, under comity, this was a state matter. I stood at the podium of the court of appeals to field the judges' questions and argue the case. Is that sufficient accountability for you?

One other thing: In the first year we did Project Exile, the murder rate in Richmond dropped by half. The second year, it dropped by half again. People say that imprisonment doesn't work. I know for a fact that it does. So do the people of Richmond, particularly its minorities, who were disporportionately victimized by the gunplay we helped curb.

I'd like to take "accountability" for that too -- and I can, to a minor extent -- but my colleagues, and particularly the Clinton-appointed US Attorney, deserve more credit than I. Would you like to congratulate them?

Bill

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 8, 2007 7:47:50 AM

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