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June 13, 2008

Another high in depriving liberty: 7.2 million under CJ control

As detailed in this Washington Post piece, the "number of people under supervision in the nation's criminal justice system rose to 7.2 million in 2006, the highest ever."  Here are more specifics and reactions:

According to a recently released report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 2 million offenders were either in jail or prison in 2006, the most recent year studied in an annual survey. 

Another 4.2 million were on probation, and nearly 800,000 were on parole.  The cost to taxpayers, about $45 billion, is causing states such as California to reconsider harsh criminal penalties. In an attempt to relieve overcrowding, California is now exporting some of its 170,000 inmates to privately run corrections facilities as far away as Tennessee....

Tim Lynch, director of the criminal justice project for the libertarian Cato Institute, called the numbers "scandalous" and said states have resorted to "tinkering" to solve prison overcrowding. "I think these numbers demonstrate that we've lost our way," Lynch said.  "We've lost our way when our laws require such a massive scale of incarceration."

Lynch and others said the drug war is destroying American inner cities almost as much as the drug trade. "When you lock up a bank robber, a child molester or a mugger, you're removing a career offender from the street.  "When you lock up a drug dealer, he is immediately replaced," Lynch said. "We tried this with alcohol during Prohibition and it didn't work. We're not reaching the same conclusion with the drug war. It's slowly sinking in, but it will take politicians some time to turn this around."

June 13, 2008 at 10:14 AM | Permalink


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For comparison, 7.2 million is approximately the same population size as the state of Israel today.

Posted by: peter | Jun 13, 2008 12:09:47 PM

This would seem like a natural function of the fact that the nation's population continues to grow. Without knowing whether the percentage has increased, this information is fairly useless.

Posted by: Steve | Jun 13, 2008 1:55:16 PM

Over 71 million criminal history records were in the criminal history files of the State criminal history repositories. (An individual offender may have records in several States.)

Posted by: George | Jun 13, 2008 6:40:47 PM

Steve, it's not remotely credible to claim that recent prison expansions are a "natural function" of population growth. Respectfully, that's a pretty ignorant comment. In Texas, for example, between 1978 and 2004 our population grew 67% and the prison population grew 573%. If anyone thinks prison overcrowding is caused merely by population growth, they've got another think coming.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jun 14, 2008 8:51:36 AM

There is a very strong age dependence in that it is very unusual for anyone 65 and older to be admitted to prison (those older than that in prison entered at a younger age). When age is taken into account we are incarcerating our young people at a very high rate. It cost about $1 million to incarcerate 40 people for a year and the are city blocks in some communities with that many residents in prison. One wonders what would happen if we spent $10,000 per year for education on the same city block.

Posted by: John Neff | Jun 14, 2008 1:26:15 PM

But Grits, you have to deal with the fact that a lot of this growth was dictated by appallingly short sentences handed out to people like Kenneth Macduff. Why can't you guys admit that we were far too lenient with violent criminals in the 70s and the 80s?

Posted by: federalist | Jun 16, 2008 3:11:29 PM

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