U.S. Passes Yet Another Prison Milestone: More than 1 in 100 Adults Behind Bars

Wednesday, March 19, 2008 at 08:58 PM

While most people were nervously watching the continued economic disintegration of the country, the Pew Center on the States published a report that should (but won't) cause sufficient national disgust to create a rebellion. We've reached the exalted state of having a full 1+ percent of our adults behind bars.

Here are the most relevant portion of the report:
The consequences of that upward trend are many, but few can rival this: more than 1 in 100 adults is now locked up in America. With 1,596,127 in state or federal prison custody, and another 723,131 in local jails, the total adult inmate count at the beginning of 2008 stood at 2,319,258. With the number of adults just shy of 230 million, the actual incarceration rate is 1 in every 99.1 adults.
Keep in mind that this figure is only for those currently behind bars. If you add in the millions who have been convicted or incarcerated but are out on probation or parole, the figure goes way up, as WTW has covered before.

And, as the Pew report points out, things look far bleaker when you look at narrower groups. For all men ages 18 or older, for example, 1 in 54 is incarcerated. One in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars, for black males in that age group the figure is one in nine.

This doesn't come cheaply, of course:

In 1987, the states collectively spent $10.6 billion of their general funds—their primary pool of discretionary tax dollars—on corrections. Last year, they spent more than $44 billion, a 315 percent jump, data from the National Association of State Budget Officers show. Adjusted to 2007 dollars, the increase was 127 percent. Over the same period, adjusted spending on higher education rose just 21 percent.
The disparity between education spending and corrections is most striking in my own state of Vermont. Bernie Sanders, one of our US Senators, described it as follows in a press release:
Vermont spends $1.37 on corrections for every $1 spent on public universities and community colleges, according to the study. Vermont is one of only five states that spend more on prisons than on colleges and universities, the researchers found, and the ratio is higher in Vermont than anywhere else.
If all this doesn't horrify you, I don't know why. And I lay considerable blame on (1) Mr. Reagan, under whose watch this prison mania seems to have begun, and (2) all the bellicose boobs on the right who incessantly bellow for tougher laws, longer sentences, harsher everything. Thanks a lot O'Reilly, and company.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't once again point out that there is a behind the scenes prison labor scam that makes million and millions for major corporations like IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom's, Revlon, Macy's, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more.