1 in 31.
March 3, 2009 8:19 AM   Subscribe

A new report by the Pew Center of the States finds that 1 in 31 U.S. Adults is currently under Community Supervision. (Full report pdf). Georgia currently tops the charts, with 1 in 13 adults under correctional control.

Previously.
posted by lunit (84 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
In other news, 30 of 31 are not.
posted by Hovercraft Eel at 8:29 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Jesus on his cross. We are so fucked up.
I was trying to think of more to say, but I that's all I've got right now.
posted by cimbrog at 8:30 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was reading about this in the paper today. We as a nation really need to take a step back and take a hard look at the problem. Are Americans such terrible people? Are we worse then Russians, Chinese, (insert country of your choice here)? If we are not the Worst People On The Planet then why do we incarcerate so many of our fellow citizens? I suggest that we start taking a serious look at why so many people are in prison and make changes. For one thing, we cannot afford to house and feed such a large percentage of the population.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:33 AM on March 3, 2009 [7 favorites]


In other news, 30 of 31 are not.

and are paying for those who are - you can't just pretend it doesn't affect you, because it does
posted by pyramid termite at 8:35 AM on March 3, 2009 [6 favorites]


1 in 100 is in prison or jail, according to the first link.
posted by found missing at 8:36 AM on March 3, 2009


People need to grow the fuck up and stop fucking committing crimes.
posted by kldickson at 8:36 AM on March 3, 2009


Just to be clear, the 1 in 99 number from the previous link (from February 2008) is about U.S. adults incarcerated. The 1 in 31 number is about adults under community supervision, which includes incarceration, probation, and parole.
posted by lunit at 8:37 AM on March 3, 2009


Is 1 in 31 high? This includes probation and parole, and the report says that 2/3's of the offenders are actually out in the community. Only 1 in 100 are in prison or jail.

So it doesn't seem high to me, once you factor in all the spousal abuse, child abuse, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, DUIs, etc. generally shitty behavior of people that's out there.

You know what would be an interesting study? What percentage of people in prison as adults ran afoul of the law before they were 15. That would tell you two things: 1) whether the adult criminals are simply problem children grown up, and 2) allows you to assess whether whatever happens to kids when they get in trouble with the law actually works as deterrent or rehabilitation.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:38 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd like to see this number from other countries and then graph it by educational and health care quality.
posted by DU at 8:42 AM on March 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


Oh and religiosity.
posted by DU at 8:42 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


People need to grow the fuck up and stop fucking committing crimes.

Sure, that will totally happen. Did the school system fail to provide an education? Addicted to drugs? have an undiagnosed mental problem and no medication or help? Just, you know, man up and get over it. Walk it off.
posted by delmoi at 8:42 AM on March 3, 2009 [18 favorites]


This is not bad news, and the article makes that totally clear so I'm not sure why the negative frame. The higher levels of supervised people in the community should mean less non-violent offenders in prison. Nonviolent offenders are negatively impacted by their contact with other types of offenders in prison populations, so on top of the cost savings benefit there is actually a drop in recidivism in parolees, as well. The issue is that a lot of prisons now faced with budget shortfalls and overcrowding are releasing people hapharzardly, as opposed to doing risk/needs assesments on the entire population to determine how many people can be released without impacting public safety because they probably shouldn't be there in the first place. If the correctional community could get on the ball with that this could turn out to be a very progressive new direction for determining who really needs to be incarcerated in America, even if the driver for the new policy is purely economic.
posted by The Straightener at 8:44 AM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


1 in 100 is high. Highest, in fact.
posted by klue at 8:45 AM on March 3, 2009


Judging by this yardstick, one would have to conclude that a Democracy by the people is a failure.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:45 AM on March 3, 2009


delmoi, there are factors such as drugs and mental illness. However, there's a certain percentage of crimes committed by people who simply did not grow the fuck up.
posted by kldickson at 8:48 AM on March 3, 2009


How many are in there for various plant and mushroom offenses?
posted by crapmatic at 8:49 AM on March 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


Judging by this yardstick, one would have to conclude that a Democracy by the people is a failure.

The U.S. is not the only democracy on the planet, you know. And also, this extremely high incarceration rate is relatively new. Only a few decades old. Of course, if you go back a few decades more you get Jim Crow laws and segregation. And before that you get slavery. Almost as if one form of oppression is replacing another. But everyone knows that racism totally ended in the 1960s, so that can't possibly be the case.
posted by delmoi at 8:49 AM on March 3, 2009 [18 favorites]


delmoi, there are factors such as drugs and mental illness. However, there's a certain percentage of crimes committed by people who simply did not grow the fuck up.

What percentage is that?
posted by delmoi at 8:50 AM on March 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


As has been mentioned before, China, with four times the population, has less people in prison.

To me it is a matter of cost. Should we imprison every non-violent pot smoker, at up to $100k/person depending on the prison? Can we afford this in this economy? Can you afford this? I can't, and it makes me very angry that my money is being thrown away like this.

What can we do about it?
posted by eye of newt at 8:52 AM on March 3, 2009


If the correctional community could get on the ball with that this could turn out to be a very progressive new direction for determining who really needs to be incarcerated in America, even if the driver for the new policy is purely economic.

Thanks for the (as usual) insightful comment. Do you know if there is much pressure from the private side of the correctional industry to reverse this trend?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:53 AM on March 3, 2009


...crimes committed by people who simply did not grow the fuck up.

If there is one word I would use to describe children it would be "prone to lawbreaking".
posted by DU at 8:54 AM on March 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


kldickson : People need to grow the fuck up and stop fucking committing crimes.

Alternatively, we could reevaluate some of the crimes we currently have and decide which ones are really worth incarcerating people for. For instance, is it really worth putting someone into prision for marijuana possession (as a timely example)? Or any one of a dozen other non-violent offenses that serve no one other than the prision industry?

The American legal system is so complicated that it's pretty likely that just getting up this morning and going to school or work, you violated some kind of ordinance. It's just that some we enforce harder than others.
posted by quin at 8:55 AM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


The U.S. is not the only democracy on the planet, you know.

Yes, I do realize that. However in our case you have to admit that that there has been a massive failure. We the people have decided what laws we want and how we want to implement them. In California, for example, it was public demand that led to the massively expensive "3 strikes and you're out" law. What the public did not understand was that some of the "strikes" (felonies) could be piled up from one incident or could be technical felonies that were not indicative of a danger to society. Legislators (who are afraid of appearing to be soft on crime for fear of losing elections) didn't bother to explain this. Now California's prisons are bursting at the seams with people incarcerated for life.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:59 AM on March 3, 2009


A society gets all the criminals it deserves. - Emma Goldman
posted by Joe Beese at 9:00 AM on March 3, 2009


I, too hope that this economic downturn will cause us to re-evaluate the reasons for putting people behind bars, however I'm afraid that this prison population is going to increase. Hard times leads to more crimes.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:06 AM on March 3, 2009


The American legal system is so complicated that it's pretty likely that just getting up this morning and going to school or work, you violated some kind of ordinance. It's just that some we enforce harder than others.

And some people, such as those who live in low-income neighborhoods or are members of certain racial minority groups, have it enforced on them harder than others.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:06 AM on March 3, 2009


As has been mentioned before, China, with four times the population, has less people in prison.

True, but that's partly because of their alarmingly common use of capital punishment.
posted by benwad at 9:07 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


It seems that the Prison System in the United States is a big business. As a result there are definitely people who have a vested interest in continually growing the prison population as it means new prisons are constantly being built. As a result these groups are going to continually lobby for increased funding, stiffer sentences, etc even though incarceration typically does not serve to rehabilitate criminals.

Politicians see no problem with classifying groups as deviant and targeting them with sanctions. In fact it's seen a politically advantageous to be "tough on crime" or "save our streets" or "won't someone think of the children". Simply put even though our criminal justice system is plagued with differential outcomes, such as the percentage of African American males incarcerated, and pretty shitty results, for instance despite having a high percentage of people incarcerated we enjoy one of the highest murder rates in the first world, there is limited political will to address some of these systemic problems. Hell I think you could even argue that the drug war, particularly discriminatory mandatory sentencing, was a way of disenfranchising a large percentage of the electorate.

Personally, despite the billions poured into incarcerating individuals in this country, I don't really feel safer. Yes, obviously there are groups of criminals that need to be incarcerated, but we need to reevaluate what crimes make sense to incarcerate (violent felonies, etc) and what crimes could more effectively be managed with alternative programs such as drug treatment and counseling. That way we as a society might be able to alter the arc of a person's life in a positive way rather than permanently condemn them to a deviant lifestyle.
posted by vuron at 9:08 AM on March 3, 2009 [7 favorites]


We hate us for our freedoms.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:09 AM on March 3, 2009 [7 favorites]


Oh god I shouldn't post when I am distracted. Pretend that the new edit feature is installed and all the bad punctuation and grammar is miraculously fixed.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:09 AM on March 3, 2009


The "man up" theory of crime prevention is fascinating to me because it seems to imply that its proponent believes in some kind of deep-down inherent ethical knowledge and moral ability which transcends causality. Never mind, it says, that you were psychologically damaged and never developed human empathy- you just need to man up and manifest that empathy! Never mind, it says, that you never learned how to behave in society- man up, and act the way society wants you to!

Somebody once said that privilege is the advantages you get and you don't understand that not everybody got them. If so, then the "man up!" theory of crime prevention is a rather pure manifestation of privilege.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:10 AM on March 3, 2009 [10 favorites]


10 years of VW bus driving convinced me that the prison industrial complex is to be feared and respected, whether you are a law abiding citizen or not. There is nothing like arbitrary and capricious searches, presumption of guilt, drug dogs, being frisked, made up traffic offenses, etc. to wake you up to the realities of life in this free country of ours. I feel for people who stand out more than I did or who live in a less tolerant society. I have a choice, and when driving a modern, less stereotyped, car I don't get a second glance. I don't drive my bus very often anymore, and might sell it, it is just too nerve-wracking. God bless America.
posted by jester69 at 9:11 AM on March 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


From Citizenship, Democracy, and the reintegration of criminal offenders (PDF): Felons and ex-felons comprise 7.5 percent of US adults, 22.3 percent of black US adults, and 33.4 percent of black adult males.

Consequences of incarceration include dramatically lower long term earning trajectories, disenfranchisement (though not in every state), employment discrimination, restrictions on receipt of public assistance (including food stamps and housing), and other barriers to civic participation. This encourages recidivism.
posted by yourcelf at 9:12 AM on March 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


That is a common misconeption benwad, China certainly execute a large number of people, but it is still a mere fraction when compared to the number of people held in prisons, both American and Chinese. (Wikipedia estimates that 10,000 people may have been executed in 2008, compare that to 3 million American prisoners and you see that the rate of capital punishment wouldn't even begin to dent our incarcerated population.)
posted by quin at 9:15 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]



In other news, 30 of 31 are not.

and are paying for those who are - you can't just pretend it doesn't affect you, because it does


You're right, of course. Hey, here's an idea! Let's express outrage about this on a website somewhere! We can declare the failure of democracy and compare the nation unfavorably to various foreign shitholes! That'll fix it!
posted by Hovercraft Eel at 9:16 AM on March 3, 2009


barriers to civic participation

The new Jim Crow.
posted by pianomover at 9:17 AM on March 3, 2009


This is only surprising if you believed Jim Crow ended.

More generally, our society is predicated on having an underclass. Whether black slaves then sharecroppers down South, or Irish and Italian sweatshop workers in New York, or Bohunks in steel mills or Scotch Irish in the mines, somebody has to be induced by mis-education and poverty to do dirty back-breaking black lung and mesothelioma inducing labor to make the rich man's profits, or to join the Marines and go to South America to force other peasants to do the same.

As the Reagan years and Bush sequelae have pushed the poor and middle class to work harder (euphemistically called "increased productivity"), to squeeze these "losers" ever tighter for the benefit of an ever smaller class of "winners", inevitably the proles break down or break ranks.

And so we have a whole system to keep them in line, and full of ironic humor, we call it a "justice system". We justly insist that the proles answer to "Toby", and find ways to keep them whipped if they forget that. It's no coincidence that the "War on Drugs" both makes sure that our workers aren't too stoned to "increase efficiency", and makes sure that the cops have both military ordnance and a seething disdain for the great mass of people they "protect and serve".

Comrade Napoleon needs his puppies to make sure Boxer gives his full effort and makes it all the way to the knackers' yard.
posted by orthogonality at 9:20 AM on March 3, 2009 [6 favorites]


"delmoi, there are factors such as drugs and mental illness. However, there's a certain percentage of crimes committed by people who simply did not grow the fuck up."

That may be true, but that is irrelevant when talking about public policy, unless you're going to address other societal problems such as jobs, education and daycare. It's fine to tell your brother to grow up and get a job. It's not fine when you are telling the country as a whole to do so, and it does no good, except maybe you get to blow off some steam.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:21 AM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


True, but that's partly because of their alarmingly common use of capital punishment.

That's completely false. They execute 1000-2000 people a year.

To put that in perspective, if China china has about 1.5 million people in prison. In order for Chinese executions to account for the much lower incarceration rate each year, they Chinese would have to execute 11.5 million people a year.

If the Average U.S. prison sentence was two years, then they'd have to kill half as many people and so on. I think around two years is the average.
posted by delmoi at 9:23 AM on March 3, 2009


It seems that the Prison System in the United States is a big business. As a result there are definitely people who have a vested interest in continually growing the prison population as it means new prisons are constantly being built.

One of the sickest examples of this has got to be the C.A. Prison Guard's Union lobbying against laws that would reduce the number of prisoners in the state.
posted by delmoi at 9:26 AM on March 3, 2009


Hey, here's an idea! Let's express outrage about this on a website somewhere! We can declare the failure of democracy and compare the nation unfavorably to various foreign shitholes! That'll fix it!

It is not going to fix itself. We need to have a national dialog and that begins, as with most national dialogs, at a grassroot level. You and I express ourselves on this website. On other websites, other people express themselves. Letters get written to editors. Letters get written to congress. Protests are staged. Books get written. etc. etc. It doesn't help to NOT write/talk/discuss the issue.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:26 AM on March 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


The Federal government is making an effort to address the recidivism issues and increase support for people on probation and parole through the Second Chance Act. Looks promising, anyway.
posted by lunit at 9:27 AM on March 3, 2009


Alternatively, we could reevaluate some of the crimes we currently have and decide which ones are really worth incarcerating people for.

Alternatively-alternatively, the profit motive could be removed from the prison-industrial complex, meaning that there will no longer be billions and billions of dollars of vested interest pushing for more prisons and prisoners.

This is one area where I really subscribe to the "follow the money" theory, writ large: even if you believe things like this are terrifically rare and aberrant cases, there is an entire small country's GNP exerting a constant and phenomenally powerful amount of pressure on the system to help prisons keep growing, keep expanding, and keep locking people up.

A functional justice system cannot be one where the terminal point is profit for a corporate entity. With a public prison system, it is in the state's interest to rehabilitate and reintegrate. With a private prison system, the company's best interests are served by keeping somebody Supermaxed for life and pulling down $100,000 a year in taxpayer dollars for the privilege and -- if that prisoner should get released -- to ensure that they wind up right back inside.
posted by Shepherd at 9:33 AM on March 3, 2009 [7 favorites]


Seems to me that American society is trying harder than most other countries to fix itself. Does zero people in jail mean there's no crime? No, it means no one cares, and no one enforces the law.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:38 AM on March 3, 2009


Hey, here's an idea! Let's express outrage about this on a website somewhere! We can declare the failure of democracy and compare the nation unfavorably to various foreign shitholes! That'll fix it!

Why do you come here? I've seen nothing but mocking, passive agressive attacks on MeFi and MeFites from you. Very boring.
posted by Paid In Full at 9:41 AM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the (as usual) insightful comment. Do you know if there is much pressure from the private side of the correctional industry to reverse this trend?

Honestly, no, I don't, however, that could be the reason why some prisons are seemingly releasing prisoners at random instead of making assessments for reoffense potential. I.e., if we let out enough potentially violent offenders who go on to subsequently violate parole in some sensational, high profile fashion (killing a cop, for example) then the prison industry can better make the case for maintaining high levels of incarceration across the board. In fact, they won't have to make the case, because fearful voters will be pushing their representatives to demand it.

Now, suggesting that the private prison industry would be willing to do something so insanely fucked up as to knowingly release violent offenders back into the community with the hope that they violently reoffend in order to make a case for maintaining high levels of incareration is OF COURSE totally far fetched, so you didn't hear it here.
posted by The Straightener at 9:42 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]



You're right, of course. Hey, here's an idea! Let's express outrage about this on a website somewhere! We can declare the failure of democracy and compare the nation unfavorably to various foreign shitholes! That'll fix it!


I have a better idea! Let's pretend that pseudo-irony counts as wit and post on some website!
posted by cmoj at 9:43 AM on March 3, 2009


First off, I gotta agree with The Straightener that this 1-in-31 statistic isn't necessarily a bad thing. As to everything else being said here:

1. The "man up" theory is, indeed, kind of ridiculous, but that doesn't mean there's nothing there. There's a stark difference between 20-something males' responsibility levels now as opposed to fifty or even thirty years ago, and there are a lot of causes for that. That doesn't mean that "man up" has any practical application as a crime prevention policy though - it just means that we should pay attention to all the effects of a disappearing middle class and a society based on limitless credit and instant gratification. I have a feeling that we'll have a few years here during which we can pay attention to those effects plenty.

2. The biggest obstacle to changing this situation legislatively is that the voters with the most power, and the voting blocs with the most power, only ever experience this issue when, say, their car gets stolen or they are otherwise victimized by crime. They see crime as something that happens to them. The crimes they commit are non-violent, and are things like prescription fraud, hiring illegal aliens, or white collar crimes so technical and abstract that they barely seem like crimes at all, and they probably won't be punished as crimes, because they are crimes committed primarily by the most powerful class, who strangely doesn't think those crimes are all that big a deal. After all, everybody does them, right?

These voters don't use "illegal" drugs because the drugs they want and are getting are legal. They don't rob people at gunpoint because they have college and post-graduate degrees, and those of them with inclinations towards theft can do it much more safely and easily with a few keystrokes and legal filings. If their child is busted for drugs or violence or vandalism or what have you, they know who to talk to to keep their kid out of prison. Thus, when you start cheering "tough on crime!" to these people, there is no downside. There is nothing for them to worry about. All it means is that the guy who stole their car might be punished for longer.

If the powerful can't see the effects of their policies, can't feel them where they live, then how can we expect them to change?
posted by Navelgazer at 9:46 AM on March 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


You're right, of course. Hey, here's an idea! Let's express outrage about this on a website somewhere! We can declare the failure of democracy and compare the nation unfavorably to various foreign shitholes! That'll fix it!

I have a better idea! Let's pretend that pseudo-irony counts as wit and post on some website!


I have an even better one! Let's pretend that playing I-Know-You-Are-But-What-Am-I? amounts to an actual discussion.
posted by jonmc at 9:48 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]



Seems to me that American society is trying harder than most other countries to fix itself. Does zero people in jail mean there's no crime? No, it means no one cares, and no one enforces the law.


Was that sarcasm? It's frighteningly hard to tell around here sometimes.

Would a country with a 99% incarceration rate be by that logic super awesome?
posted by Shepherd at 9:48 AM on March 3, 2009


Why do you come here?

Speaking in general, I've noticed a few new rightwing noisemakers show up in the last few months. The GOP has been talking about building an online presence to rival Democrats'. Maybe these are related?
posted by DU at 9:49 AM on March 3, 2009


MeetaFilter: Community Supervision
posted by stbalbach at 9:50 AM on March 3, 2009


The biggest obstacle to changing this situation legislatively is that the voters with the most power, and the voting blocs with the most power, only ever experience this issue when, say, their car gets stolen or they are otherwise victimized by crime. They see crime as something that happens to them.

they even see drug crimes like that - their relative, their friends, their children get addicted to illegal drugs and it's because those damn drug dealers sold it to them - it's a crime that happened to THEM

i don't think that's a very accurate or useful way of looking at drug addiction, but many people believe it - and that's why you get support for such harsh penalties
posted by pyramid termite at 9:52 AM on March 3, 2009


Speaking in general, I've noticed a few new rightwing noisemakers show up in the last few months. The GOP has been talking about building an online presence to rival Democrats'. Maybe these are related?

yes, you'll find them everywhere....they've infiltrated....

DU, I have no great love for far-right blowhards, but let's not be paranoid. Besides, they have the right to make noise if they want.
posted by jonmc at 9:53 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


RED
You're gonna fit right in. Everyone in here is innocent, you know that? Heywood, what you in here for?

HEYWOOD
Didn't do it. Lawyer fucked me.

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:59 AM on March 3, 2009


The "man up" theory is, indeed, kind of ridiculous, but that doesn't mean there's nothing there. There's a stark difference between 20-something males' responsibility levels now as opposed to fifty or even thirty years ago, and there are a lot of causes for that.

Given as DoJ crime statistics are actually down since 30 or 50 years ago, and that your implication was that those damn kids these days ain't got no responsibilities, I'm not sure that this went where you wanted.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:03 AM on March 3, 2009


Pope Guilty - of course crime statistics are down from 30 or 50 years ago! We're keeping the criminals in prison!

Seriously though, you're right, and I'm not even sure that point of that part of my comment.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:12 AM on March 3, 2009


Community Supervision
correctional control

Euphemise much?
posted by spamguy at 10:13 AM on March 3, 2009


The American public and lawmakers seem to some of the rest of the world to have a topsy-turvy view of criminal justice. The view predominately projected is that prison is a punishment, an end in itself, and that there is some knock-on effect that guys in prison don't commit crime. This is an extremely short-sighted view. The goal for the majority of society should be to experience as little crime as possible. Criminal justice is a means to this end, not an end in itself.
The consequence of this myopia is that short custodial sentences are handed out like sweets, particularly for drug offences. These sentences can have direct knock-on effects in three-strikes jurisdictions, as well as more indirect effects in regards to how difficult a prison record makes it to get on in life. This doesn't do anyone any favours. These people are not contributing and are very costly for society. If the focus shifts to decriminalising and rehabilitating this kind of low level offender, rather than punishing them, things might turn out a little better, and cheaper for everyone else.
posted by Jakey at 10:31 AM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was just reading this article by Christian Parenti-Rural Prison as Colonial Master-that deals with how the economic interests of localities housing prisons influence the sentencing of prisoners who allegedly committed crimes while incarcerated.

Parenti did a longer piece on the same subject in The Baffler magazine, issue twelve, (not available online, alas) and I seem to remember him saying that the prisoners were tried by juries composed of "peers" i.e. people who lived close to Pelican Bay and who almost invariably benefited financially (whether directly or indirectly) from the continued imprisonment of as many people as possible. OT, kind of, but can anyone here fill me in on how trials for crimes committed in prison happen? I'm sure it varies state-to-state, but do they tend to happen inside the prison, with "outside" juries, or what?
posted by generalist at 11:05 AM on March 3, 2009


Man... that's just shocking. 1 in 100 in jail? I knew there were a lot of people in prison in the US, but had no idea it was that bad. I find it a difficult to express how disturbing the idea is that at one point 1 in 100 has done something that would get you sent to jail (and that would be both in the amount of people doing illegal things, and an extreme amount getting jail sentences).
posted by bjrn at 11:23 AM on March 3, 2009


Violent crime statistics since 1973.

Today's jails are increasingly occupied by younger less violent offenders.
posted by pianomover at 11:31 AM on March 3, 2009


What's scary is that if law enforcement were better, the number of Americans in jail would be much, much higher. If everybody actually received jail time for every jail-able offense, no matter how well-hidden the crime or how ridiculous and/or outdated the law... well, I'm just guessing, but I gotta think at least 25% of the population would be locked up at any given moment.

I've said it before, but it's a jail-able offense in my town to swear in public -- "disorderly conduct", up to 90 days in jail. It's also jail-able (same statute) to make any obscene gesture or call out in a loud and disruptive manner. So you can (and *should*, according to law) literally go to jail FOR 90 DAYS for seeing your friend across the street and calling out, "Hi, Steve!!". Laws like this are tolerated because they're so loosely enforced, but they shouldn't be laws to begin with!
posted by LordSludge at 11:43 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


1 in 100 is a gross number of people in jail, but I kind of wish there were more numbers. How much of that is drug war related? How much of that is because sentences are longer in the US than, say, in the UK. (Are they longer? I'd assume with all the 3 strikes rules American prison sentences are generally higher, but I don't have any good data.) Comparing numbers across class lines (comparing racially between two different countries seems problematic) are the numbers high across the board or is it just one class being overly incarcerated. Etc. etc. One really high number shows there is a problem, but it really doesn't say anything about what the problem is.

Oh and to the people who are comparing American prison statistics with the Chinese, are you seriously willing to trust anything the Chinese government publishes? Are you really that naive?
posted by aspo at 11:51 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


aspo, from this report produced by the Sentencing Project:

•Drug arrests have more than tripled in the last 25 years, totaling a record 1.8 million arrests in 2005;
•In 2005, 42.6% of all drug arrests were for marijuana offenses, and marijuana possession arrests accounted for 79% of the growth in drug arrests in the 1990s;
•Drug offenders in prisons and jails have increased 1100% since 1980. Nearly a half-million (493,800) persons are in state or federal prison or local jail for a drug offense, compared to an estimated 41,100 in 1980.
•Nearly 6 in 10 persons in state prison for a drug offense have no history of violence or high-level drug selling activity;
•African Americans comprise 14% of regular drug users, but are 37% of those arrested for drug offenses and 56% of persons in state prison for drug offenses;
•African Americans serve almost as much time in federal prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months), largely due to racially disparate sentencing laws such as the 100-to-1 crack-powder cocaine disparity;
•Persons in prison with a history of regular drug use are less than half as likely to be receiving treatment as in 1991. Only 14.1% of persons in state prison in 2004 who had used drugs in the month prior to their arrest had participated in treatment compared to 36.5% in 1991. In federal prison, these proportions declined from 33.7% in 1991 to 15.2% in 2004.
posted by rtha at 12:09 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]



Sure, that will totally happen. Did the school system fail to provide an education? Addicted to drugs? have an undiagnosed mental problem and no medication or help? Just, you know, man up and get over it. Walk it off.


Interesting thought -- what if everyone committing crimes and being jailed for it fell into this category of people? What if, as a nation, 1 in 31 of us didn't get an education, or is addicted to drugs, or has an undiagnosed mental problem and no medication or help?

Looking at it that way, would we try to solve those problems, or would we lock 'em up?
posted by davejay at 1:04 PM on March 3, 2009


1. The "man up" theory is, indeed, kind of ridiculous, but that doesn't mean there's nothing there. There's a stark difference between 20-something males' responsibility levels now as opposed to fifty or even thirty years ago, and there are a lot of causes for that.

What on earth are you talking about? First of all how do you even measure “responsibility levels”? 30 years ago 20 year old men had 56 responsiblons and now they’re down to 18 or what? If anything, they have more responsibility to their children thanks to the end of welfare.

Pope Guilty - of course crime statistics are down from 30 or 50 years ago! We're keeping the criminals in prison!

The problem is, you can make that argument either way "Crime is down because more people are in prison!" or you can say "More people are in prison even though crime is down!"
posted by delmoi at 1:04 PM on March 3, 2009


rtha: You are mixing arrested with jailed (and I'm not talking waiting for bail). For instance if there are 493,800 out of 229,387,600 (est US population over 18) that's about 0.2%, which is high (in the ballpark for total prison population in European countries), but only 1/5th of the total prison population, and around 1/10th when you take out the people with "no history of violence or high-level drug selling activity". So, 90% of our prison population isn't there because of minor drug activity. I would have guessed that number (90%) was a lot lower.
posted by aspo at 1:09 PM on March 3, 2009


You're right, of course. Hey, here's an idea! Let's express outrage about this on a website somewhere! We can declare the failure of democracy and compare the nation unfavorably to various foreign shitholes! That'll fix it!

I have a better idea! Let's pretend that pseudo-irony counts as wit and post on some website!

I have an even better one! Let's pretend that playing I-Know-You-Are-But-What-Am-I? amounts to an actual discussion.


"Discussion" was the secret word! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!
posted by cmoj at 1:22 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Land of the free, baby.
posted by adipocere at 1:30 PM on March 3, 2009


Seems to me that American society is trying harder than most other countries to fix itself. Does zero people in jail mean there's no crime? No, it means no one cares, and no one enforces the law.

Like Oscar Wilde did not say: "Incarcerating 1 in 100 is a tragedy, but incarcerating 1 in 1 743 looks like carelessness."

(57/100 000, incarceration rate of Finland)
posted by Free word order! at 1:32 PM on March 3, 2009


Apologies for misinterpreting, aspo.

I'm sure there's more information on the Sentencing Project's website, should you care to look.
posted by rtha at 1:48 PM on March 3, 2009


Only 1 in 100 are in prison or jail.

That is highest per capita rate in the world. The only other country that comes close is Russia.
posted by sophist at 2:24 PM on March 3, 2009


We are number one!
posted by TwelveTwo at 2:34 PM on March 3, 2009


The US has 1/4 of the world's prison inmates.

World Prison Population List (PDF)

DoJ Prison Statistics
At yearend 2007 there were 3,138 black male sentenced prisoners per 100,000 black males in the United States, compared to 1,259 Hispanic male sentenced prisoners per 100,000 Hispanic males and 481 white male sentenced prisoners per 100,000 white males.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:00 PM on March 3, 2009


“If we are not the Worst People On The Planet then why do we incarcerate so many of our fellow citizens? I suggest that we start taking a serious look at why so many people are in prison and make changes.”

Well, wait a shake there, if we are the Worst People On The Planet it’s probably a good thing so many of us are in prison, yeah?

“People need to grow the fuck up and stop fucking committing crimes.”

Totally. My two year old just held up a liquor store.

Hey, I think it’s nice to have so many people under supervision. This way you have a wide selection in your choice of ”the usual suspects.”

More seriously:
“Somebody once said that privilege is the advantages you get and you don't understand that not everybody got them. If so, then the "man up!" theory of crime prevention is a rather pure manifestation of privilege.”

Indeed, the irony is, lack of empathy is often seen as a desirable trait which leads to advancement and success. Couple that with yourcelf’s point on barriers to civic participation and you have that ‘rugged individualist’ myth so many folks see themselves as.
Funly enough, I pretty much define that ideal. FWIW I’m ‘self’ made (that is, I made my own money), very self-reliant, all that. But I’ve always considered myself a privileged outsider. That is, I got all the benefits from being raised in this society but having been put through some changes, I’ve got a different perspective (and perhaps woke up to those otherwise invisible assets).

It is exactly civic participation – inclusion in society, not just being given assets and resources, but attention from the state, from society at large, that not only decreases recidivism but stabilizes society.
The more engagement, participation, the less guns and bars you need to keep people in line.
It’s a stupid waste of resources, people, effort, etc. the way we’re doing it now.
Of course, perhaps I feel that way because in an actual meritocracy, I think I’d be doing pretty well. I doubt the folks keeping this system in place believe the same thing. But then, I don’t much value stuff as much as the intangibles (education, training, etc.)
Funny, as orthogonality (et.al) allude to, it really is just piggish desire for excess, or more stuff than the ‘other guy’ that keeps this going. Or, at best, so they can have a job where they can just sit on their ass.
White collar crime, seems to me, actually creates far more violent crime.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:56 PM on March 3, 2009


We are just now getting back to incarceration rates (see Myth 4) of the 1950s. The difference is that we've shifted to mental hospitals and prisons to just prisons. What looks like an increase is just movement from on institution to another. It's awful, but it's not new.
posted by one_bean at 4:43 PM on March 3, 2009


"However in our case you have to admit that that there has been a massive failure. We the people have decided what laws we want and how we want to implement them."

That alone should be reason to consider why our government was set up with elected legislative bodies on the state and federal level to deliberate and pass laws. Law by referendum is really not such a great idea. There are too many shifting tides and short-term memories to make it work well in practice, though it sounds appealing. It did take an amendment to their state constitution, which is supposed to be difficult to achieve in itself, but it should probably be reconsidered.

Democracy isn't really a failure, though. It's worked in the past, like ancient history, and it works in the present. But breaking it down to the idea that people pass bad laws when they vote isn't a thorough consideration of its real problems and real advantages. A republic like ours is supposed to help mitigate the negative issues of democracy, but that's not the only way to do it. A direct up-or-down vote on everything isn't workable, and I'd definitely agree if you had stated it that way.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:45 PM on March 3, 2009


"It did take an amendment to their state constitution"

Talking about California here.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:45 PM on March 3, 2009


"We are just now getting back to incarceration rates (see Myth 4) of the 1950s. The difference is that we've shifted to mental hospitals and prisons to just prisons. What looks like an increase is just movement from on institution to another. It's awful, but it's not new."

Maybe so, but the Three Strikes law, Rockefeller drug laws and others like it helped get us here. But it's an interesting point. Undoubtedly, we are incarcerating mentally ill people in many cases where we used to hold them against their will in mental hospitals, but it doesn't explain the increase in rates so neatly, and the laws aren't automatically geared to imprison mentally ill people, who many times will rotate in and out of jail but not necessarily prison.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:54 PM on March 3, 2009


I don't think statistics like these in any way suggest that democracy is a failure — as many people point out, there are lots of democracies, past and present, which do not have the imprisonment problem that we have in the US today. However, it certainly shows that something in the United States right now is broken, and very badly so.

My suspicion is that if you look at other societies and cultures of comparable size to the United States, and which have lower prison populations, you will see that they have more ways of applying corrective action to abberant individuals, before they get to the point of winding up in jail. I admit to only having a tourists' understanding of Chinese culture, but they struck me as tolerating a lot less "acting out" (both from children and young people, but also from adults) than we do in the US. It doesn't surprise me that they have less people in prison, on average; it seems like there's a lot more constant, corrective pressure to conform and not be antisocial there, while in the US we have a pretty big stigma against calling others out when they're not doing anything actually illegal.

It's as though the US is like a bowling alley lane: there's a big flat area of basically-accepted behavior, and not a lot to stop you from wandering around on it — you can get away with being a pretty massive douchebag and not suffer too much, as long as you stick to legal forms of douchebaggery — but if you push too far you fall very suddenly into the "gutter": the criminal-justice system. Once you fall into it, chances are you're stuck there.

Other societies (and maybe our own in the past, although it's hard to get past the constant sugar-coating of everything that happened more than a generation ago) seem to do a somewhat better job of nudging people back towards the centerline before they fall off completely, and also of making the gutter less deep and entrapping.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:41 PM on March 3, 2009


"It doesn't surprise me that they have less people in prison, on average; it seems like there's a lot more constant, corrective pressure to conform and not be antisocial there, while in the US we have a pretty big stigma against calling others out when they're not doing anything actually illegal."

But this doesn't explain the steep increase in incarceration rates in the US. I think public policy explains it better, particularly the profit motive in the prison business, which has been mentioned several times. There are many other factors, including education, health care, etc., but looking at the criminal justice system tells a different story than it's just the way we are.

Close-knit community can make a difference in crime rates. Our suburbanization hasn't helped. But that isn't the whole story.

"but if you push too far you fall very suddenly into the 'gutter': the criminal-justice system. Once you fall into it, chances are you're stuck there."

Yes, there is a conspicuous lack of rehabilitative emphasis in our criminal justice system. Less and less is spent on rehab services all the time, mostly because the public doesn't push for it, and there isn't a whole lot of incentive for the prison business to get too involved with it. Sure, there are work programs and the like (which make money on the backs of captive labor), but sometimes there is nothing available, and the money isn't there for it. Well, it's not being spent that way.

I do think the primary reason we ended up with this system and this situation is because politicians have played on our cultural tendencies and fears to exploit this part of the government to their own ends, much like the weapons/military contractor business (e.g., the Red Scare), utility privatization, etc. Simple as that.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:57 PM on March 3, 2009


1 in 13 adults under correctional control

You have got to be shitting us. That is just a stupid number. Tell me they import 90% of their prisoners. It's gotta be something like that.


If we are not the Worst People On The Planet then why do we incarcerate so many of our fellow citizens?

Truly.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:20 PM on March 3, 2009


Overhaul of Rockefeller drug laws fast-tracked. [New York.]
posted by lunit at 7:04 AM on March 9, 2009


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