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February 28, 2008

Potent new Pew report documents 1 in 100 prison reality

As detailed in this press release, "[a]ccording to a new report released today by the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project, at the start of 2008, 2,319,258 adults were held in American prisons or jails, or one in every 99.1 men and women."  Here are more details from the release:

During 2007, the prison population rose by more than 25,000 inmates.  In addition to detailing state and regional prison growth rates, Pew’s report, One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008, identifies how corrections spending compares to other state investments, why it has increased, and what some states are doing to limit growth in both prison populations and costs while maintaining public safety....

According to the report, 36 states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons saw their prison populations increase in 2007.  Among the seven states with the largest number of prisoners — those with more than 50,000 inmates — three grew (Ohio, Florida and Georgia), while four (New York, Michigan, Texas and California) saw their populations dip.  Texas surpassed California as the nation’s prison leader following a decline in both states’ inmate populations — Texas decreased by 326 inmates and California by 4,068. Ten states, meanwhile, experienced a jump in inmate population growth of 5 percent or greater, a list topped by Kentucky with a surge of 12 percent.

A close examination of the most recent U.S. Department of Justice data (2006) found that while one in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars, the figure is one in nine for black males in that age group.  Men are still roughly 13 times more likely to be incarcerated, but the female population is expanding at a far brisker pace. For black women in their mid- to late-30s, the incarceration rate also has hit the one-in-100 mark. In addition, one in every 53 adults in their 20s is behind bars; the rate for those over 55 is one in 837....

Twenty years ago, the states collectively spent $10.6 billion of their general funds — their primary discretionary dollars — on corrections.  Last year, they spent more than $44 billion in general funds, a 315 percent jump, and more than $49 billion in total funds from all sources. Coupled with tightening state budgets, the greater prison expenditures may force states to make tough choices about where to spend their money.   For example, Pew found that over the same 20-year period, inflation-adjusted general fund spending on corrections rose 127 percent while higher education expenditures rose just 21 percent....

The full report can be found here, and the graphic on page 6 of the report highlights why I am always so concerned about the racial skew in our sentencing policies and practices regarding imprisonment.  Also, the report usefully (though somewhat summarily) addresses modern political realities:

The politics of crime fighting have made most lawmakers understandably wary of advocating a diverse punishment strategy.  There are politicians who have seen their careers torpedoed by opponents who used a lone vote, or even a comment, to create a dreaded “soft-on- crime” image at election time. Still, in some states, policy makers on both sides of the aisle are finding a safe path through this minefield. In some cases, the soaring costs of imprisonment have hindered spending on other vital programs to a degree that many find unacceptable.  At the same time, polls show a shift in public attitudes toward crime, which has dropped down the list of issues of most concern to voters.  Taken together, these factors — coupled with new strategies that can cut recidivism rates — are fueling a bipartisan appetite for new approaches.

February 28, 2008 at 12:00 PM | Permalink


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» The Spinning of The Pew Report from Simple Justice
The Pew report has been the subject of intense interest around the blawgosphere. [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 29, 2008 6:32:51 AM

» The Spinning of The Pew Report from Simple Justice
The Pew report has been the subject of intense interest around the blawgosphere. [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 29, 2008 8:32:25 AM


The BOJ survey is based on a one-day-snapshot of prisons and jails. It does seem to be reasonably consistent from year-to-year but who knows how reliable the numbers are.

However the number for Iowa prisoners in the Pew report seem to be either wrong or misleading. They Pew report listed 9,419 for Iowa prisons and the Iowa DOC count for today is 8,625 plus 668 persons on work release under the jurisdiction of Community Based Corrections. I think the Pew report included work release clients for Iowa as prison inmates.

Posted by: John Neff | Feb 28, 2008 6:12:55 PM

I neglected to mention that they may have also included safe-keepers (persons who are not sentenced who are held for short periods for evaluation of for other reasons) and prisoners held out-of-state. It is possible to double count out-of-state prisoners (I doubt that would cause a very large error).

Posted by: John Neff | Feb 28, 2008 6:19:34 PM

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