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Perp Nation?
August 25, 2002 6:16 PM   Subscribe

Perp Nation? By the end of 2001, according to a government report, one in every 32 adults in the United States was in jail, on probation or on parole. That works out to 470 out of every 100,000 U.S. residents behind bars, including disproportionate numbers of minorities (scroll down) and over 4.7 million adults on probation or parole. Texas leads the way.
posted by gottabefunky (38 comments total)

Texas stats are big pdfs - sorry. In a nutshell they had more adults "under correctional supervision" than any other state.
posted by gottabefunky at 6:29 PM on August 25, 2002

Big surprise. We should just turn TX into a penal colony. Judge Dredd ... Scott.
posted by donkeyschlong at 6:33 PM on August 25, 2002

Incarcerated drug offenders.

Prisoners sentenced for drug offenses constitute the largest group of Federal inmates (57%) in 2000

*hits head against wall*
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 6:48 PM on August 25, 2002

According to this World Prison List the 470 number is down from 645 in 1997 so we are improving however the USA is still among the top in the world.
posted by stbalbach at 6:52 PM on August 25, 2002

BTW this article is an example of biased partisian journalism (IMO). It presents statistics about residents behind bars as growing yet in fact on a per-capita basis it is shrinking. The raw numbers have increased but so has the population. Thus the straw man constructed Texas is highlited as the worst offender but in fact do we know if Texas has been improving on a per-capita basis or even if Texas is the worse offender per-capita? What about NY? My guess is Texas is following national trends and has improved. This does not take into account the probation numbers which may be getting worse, but could reflect minor drug charges not resulting in incarceration which is a GoodThing.
posted by stbalbach at 7:05 PM on August 25, 2002

57% of prisoners in the US are incarcerated for using drugs. They dare smoke marijuana in the privacy or their own homes! You don't expect us to just let these fiends go, do you?
That was sarcastic, btw. Don't want to take any chances.
posted by ac at 7:09 PM on August 25, 2002

AC: Just stating the obvious that "drug offenses" could mean things much more severe than smoking pot at home.

However, even if 5.7% of them are in prison for your listed offense, that is entirely too many.

Pot smoking should warrant a citation. Like double parking. Just my $0.02. (Disclaimer: I do not now nor have I ever smoked pot. But I still believe the punishments do not fit the crime.)
posted by Ynoxas at 7:15 PM on August 25, 2002

Hijack: why should it even warrant a citation? That's just more paperwork for the courts to churn through.

And yes, the number includes violent offenders and those who sell to juveniles. But the number still speaks for itself, does it not?
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 7:23 PM on August 25, 2002

Interested MeFites might like to peruse this Mother Jones special on incarceration, which has been discussed here previously, somewhere or other. I like the atlas, particularly.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:58 PM on August 25, 2002

I thought most jailed drug offenders were crack users. Certainly, pot possession accounts for single-digit percentages of those jailed, and sales -- rather than possession -- for 56%. Ah, the DOJ reports that crack cocaine accounted for 16% of convictions; cocaine powder had a plurality at 28%.

It's not clear to me (I'm not looking that closely) how these figures may be normalized for length of sentence. Crackheads and dealers get the longest sentences by far, so any snapshot would show a higher number imprisoned, than counts of convictions.
posted by dhartung at 9:53 PM on August 25, 2002

When everything is outlawed, only outlaws will . . . be Americans? Eat a Twinkie, go to jail? Have your sentence deferred if you agree to have your case heard in Caffeine Court? "This is your brain. This is your brain with a massive infarct caused by hyperlipidema, caused by eating too much red meat"?

If we could only get rid of that damned pesky Constitution, then we could really "git tuff" on the truly harmful things . . .
posted by wdpeck at 11:16 PM on August 25, 2002

stbalbach: thanks for playing!

Texas Incarceration rate per 100,00 inhabitants
1980: 155 ----> 2000: 779

that seems pretty definitive. TX is #3 in the incarceration rate per capita, but LA(#2) and DC(#1) have far fewer prisoners total than TX -- LA has 34K to TX's 150K, for what that is worth.
posted by n9 at 11:21 PM on August 25, 2002

Actualy we have the higest prison rate of anywhere, we passed russia last year.
posted by delmoi at 11:36 PM on August 25, 2002

"You might be interested to know: the United States has 5 percent of the world's population - but 25 percent of the world's prison population" (from here)

I guess that either means the US has most criminals, or the world's best combined police force. I'm inclined to believe the latter.
posted by hama7 at 12:22 AM on August 26, 2002

I'm inclined to point and laugh uproariously.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:34 AM on August 26, 2002

The Economist -- not your typical liberal advocacy rag -- used this as their cover story two weeks ago.

"The typical inmate goes into prison disadvantaged by almost every measure. He is more likely than other Americans to be poor and poorly educated, to have a sorry employment record, to be a junkie, to be mentally ill, and to be a member of a minority group. A survey of Californian inmates found that half were functionally illiterate. Prison could fix some of those social disadvantages; usually it does not. So the typical inmate is released from prison with all the problems he went in with—plus a prison record that makes finding a job or a place to live even harder."

They also include a graph on electoral disenfranchisement. All this creates an entire population that have nowhere to turn and no one to turn to. The American equivalent of India's untouchable caste.
posted by raaka at 3:16 AM on August 26, 2002

Prison could fix some of those social disadvantages; usually it does not.

Should it? I thought prison was punishment, not graduate school. As far as the "untouchable" comparison goes, that's utterly ridiculous. People who are criminals had a choice, and they chose wrong. There is no choice in the caste system in India.
posted by hama7 at 3:55 AM on August 26, 2002

And Stavros, I'm surprised at your double standards. Shouldn't you be enlightening the world to the penal conditions that are being foisted onto the "persecuted underclass" of South Korea? The "untouchable" criminals who've made their choices to commit grevious acts on society? That's right, it's still punishment here.
posted by hama7 at 4:07 AM on August 26, 2002

I thought prison was about rehabilitation. If all we're doing is taking these people out of circulation for a time then releasing them, they're obviously going to become recidivists. With rehabilitation they as individuals gain all the benefits of lawful life and society gains a useful member at the cost of a dangerous won.

Rehabilitation is a win-win. Strict discplinarity is lose-lose, since society has to pay for the punishment and doesn't get anything in return save a brief respite.
posted by raaka at 4:15 AM on August 26, 2002

since society has to pay for the punishment and doesn't get anything in return save a brief respite.

I was thinking along the lines of a nice, long respite, during which changes of character can take place when one realizes one is being punished, not rewarded. I think plenty of people wouldn't mind paying for that.
posted by hama7 at 4:38 AM on August 26, 2002

You know, hama7, I may just be some selfish liberal pacifist, but for some reason the idea of having to pay for the punishment of one out of every 32 Americans for no other reason than to make you feel better just doesn't appeal to me.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:08 AM on August 26, 2002

So what should one do with a criminal? Send him to Harvard and give him a ticker-tape parade? Opening the prison gates for a "selfish liberal pacifist" just doesn't appeal to me, either.

Do you have a better idea? Or do you think punishment in and of itself is inhuman? Does the sheer number of criminals lead you to believe that they are actually not guilty? What's the alternative?


posted by hama7 at 6:14 AM on August 26, 2002

So what should one do with a criminal? Send him to Harvard and give him a ticker-tape parade?

I would say yes. Then he has until forty years of age to stop criminal activity. If he is successful, he gets to govern the state with the highest incarceration rate. That way, he can identify with more of his constituents. And, if you wouldn't throw open the gates for a selfish liberal pacifist, would you consider a fiscal conservative who thinks that locking people up for petty drug use (esp. marijuana) is a huge squandering of public money, particularly if they're going to come out years later no better a person than before? If we're going to remove someone from society, shouldn't we try to help them improve themselves before we put them back in? Or do you think we should have mandatory life w/o parole sentences for everyone, for everything? If we did that, we wouldn't care what kind of a person they wound up as, would we? Anyway, save the tickertape parade until your hypothetical criminal takes the White House by Any Means Necessary.
posted by trondant at 8:25 AM on August 26, 2002

End the silly sentencing for drug crimes and prostitution
Execute murderers, rapists and child molesters
posted by owillis at 8:44 AM on August 26, 2002

Amen, owillis!

I'm naive, but really, why are prostitution and private, not-harming-anyone drug use outlawed?

I heard a silly story somewhere that marijuana was outlawed instead of tobacco for political reasons; some conspiracy involving Congress, the rope industry, the government owning tobacco farms, etc.

But now for some reason it seems less silly.

And does anyone else here think that execution is a lot lesser punishment than life in prison? It seems like you get off easy rather than spend the rest of your life in the big house. Unless the inmate has a fear of dying, but in that case he is only tormented for the time leading up to his execution, and not the rest of his life.
posted by ac at 9:08 AM on August 26, 2002

Unless the inmate has a fear of dying, but in that case he is only tormented for the time leading up to his execution, and not the rest of his life.


posted by trondant at 9:18 AM on August 26, 2002

Um what, trondant?
posted by ac at 9:29 AM on August 26, 2002

The solution is to increase the budgets, powers, and technological sophistication of police forces.

Although there are many "root causes" of crime (poverty and lack of education, sure, but also moral and ethical degeneracy, too) there is only one proximate cause of virtually all crime: the reasonable belief that one can get away with it. Even a modest punishment, if certain or highly likely, will disincent any kind of crime, because it lowers its expected returns beneath that of lawful activity.

The sad fact is that law enforcement is among the most regressive and low-tech of all socially critical enterprises. In what other field is it routine that entry level professionals don't have college degrees, and that senior managers typically have night-school BAs in criminology or some other soft discipline? The fact that law enforcement has a single-tier career track (everyone starts off as patrolman) means that higher level anti-crime, investigations, and supervisorial staff are exclusively drawn from people who will initially accept the blue collar pay, conditions, and job descriptions of an entry level patrolman.

To my mind, the best solution is to bifurcate policing along the lines of the military. Rather than a moderate size corps of patrol officers making $30,000 to $70,000, have a much larger "enlisted" corps of young patrolmen who make something like what a private in the Army makes -- $13,000 to $14,000 a year, and who serve for a few years before going on to college. This would enable a far larger force on the streets, in patrol cars, standing on corners undercover, etc.

Then, there is a smaller "officer" corps, comprised of people drawn from good colleges, who are subdivided into supervision of the "enlisted" corps, and a variety of technologically, economically, and/or sociologically sophisticated professional specialities, deploying a wide variety of tools to monitor and protect high crime areas and cut off crime at its true source ... the ability to get away with it. This officer corps would be sufficiently elite, and offer sufficient opportunities for advancement and sufficient compensation, to attract a caliber of volunteers comparable to that who become officers in the Armed Forces.
posted by MattD at 9:43 AM on August 26, 2002

One of the problems is that many American prisons are for-profit corporations. Incarceration is good for business.

It's a fucked system.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:53 AM on August 26, 2002

Unless the inmate has a fear of dying, but in that case he is only tormented for the time leading up to his execution, and not the rest of his life.

Um what, trondant?

AC: He's just waiting for the other shoe to fall. Your statement was nonsensical. Read it carefully. If he is tormented up until he is executed, that is by definition "the rest of his life".

He was just giving you the opportunity to catch it yourself, which you failed to do. :-)

Just good-natured ribbing.
posted by Ynoxas at 10:49 AM on August 26, 2002

The solution is to increase the budgets, powers, and technological sophistication of police forces.

It's an interesting idea, and worth more thought, but I don't see how it would help keep peopel out of prison, or keep them from going back in once they got out.

The more officers=less chance to "get away with it" sounds good, but doesn't hold up. The money spent on prisons and law enforcement over the last twenty years has increased astronomically, and the result has simply been more criminals.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 11:03 AM on August 26, 2002

YaT: Perhaps because the social(ization) system is failing. Children are being raised to either believe that committing a crime is no big deal; or who are so desperate that committing a crime is survival.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:10 AM on August 26, 2002

What I meant to say was, the inmate will be tortured for just the short time leading up to the execution, rather than for many years afterward as he serves a life sentence. Is that clearer?

sorry. I wasn't awake yet. Now my good friend Mr Two Cups of Strong Black Coffee is in me. Mmm..
posted by ac at 11:43 AM on August 26, 2002

YaN: my point is that spending on prisons, and spending on police, need to be thought of as completely different things. Spending on prison doesn't keep people out of prison (obviously), nor does it seem to reduce crime except by enabling more criminals to be locked up and kept away from their victims (although that factor is not to be underestimated as a source of the decline in crime in the 1990s).

Spending on police, intelligently, can reduce the number of people in prison in the long run, because it makes crime signficantly less rational. (Criminals are stupid, but not irrational.)

The proper experiment, I think, would be to halve prison sentences whilst doubling police resources -- I suspect that this would produce a dramatic reduction in crime.
posted by MattD at 1:21 PM on August 26, 2002

Or spend the money on programs that help to keep people from turning to crime in the first place.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:19 PM on August 26, 2002

You mean like D.A.R.E?
That was totally effective. The kids even get T-Shirts!
posted by ac at 2:28 PM on August 26, 2002

Spending on prison doesn't keep people out of prison

This isn't strictly true. Many prisoners are repeat offenders who might not be there if they had been rehabilitated rather than simply housed.

At this point in time, prison is best at making better criminals. You get in, socialize exclusively with other criminals, and are released back to the world with no options but to do what you knew before you went in.

Rehabilitation isn't some kind of cake walk. Your schedule is still set by others, you are still watched 24 hours a day, and you are forced into therapy. With luck, you go to school, but you'd better keep your grades up or you're screwed.

Rehabilitation isn't easy for anyone--the society who must pay or the criminal who must work--but in the end it's good for everyone.
posted by frykitty at 2:53 PM on August 26, 2002

End the silly sentencing for drug crimes and prostitution- owillis

I'm naive, but really, why are prostitution and private, not-harming-anyone drug use outlawed?-ac

Prostitutes account for exactly what percent of the convict population? Honestly, a night in the clink for solicitation and a slap on the wrist. Let them move to Nevada. Who cares?

Drug crimes are an entirely different creature, and deserve Singapore-style punishment for traffickers and dealers, with only slightly less severe action for users. You can always fly to Holland.
posted by hama7 at 3:01 AM on August 27, 2002

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