About one of every 143 U.S. residents was in the federal, state or local custody at year's end.
July 28, 2003 12:17 AM   Subscribe

Study Finds 2.6% Increase in U.S. Prison Population The nation's prison population grew 2.6 percent last year, the largest increase since 1999, according to a study by the Justice Department. The jump came despite a small decline in serious crime in 2002. It also came when a growing number of states facing large budget deficits have begun trying to reduce prison costs by easing tough sentencing laws passed in the 1990's, thereby decreasing the number of inmates. The key finding in the report is this growth, which is somewhat surprising in its size after several years of relative stability in the prison population, said Allen J. Beck, an author of the report. U.S. Prison Population Grew 2.6% in 2002. The country's prisons, jails and juvenile facilities held 2,166,260 persons at the end of last year, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) said in a report released today. Prisoners in 2002 Abstract
posted by y2karl (19 comments total)
The UK prison population has been growing steadily also since the early 1990s - up to around 73,000 today from 42,000 or so in 1994. Nothing like the proportion found in US prisons (UK: c.125 per 100,000 of the population; US: 476 per 100,000 in prison, 701 per 100K in prison and jail), but the relative increase in that period has been similar (and greater with respect to the female population). No pause in growth and then resumption over here, though - s'been a steady rise, rise, rise.

According to the report, what seems to be happening is that the sentencing policies enacted in the 1990s in many States are - damn their inflexible natures! - still shoving people into prison with long sentences, at a time when legislatures would prefer them not to be doing so (yup - prison's quite costly when you're trying to save money).

Also interesting is that the largest growth is in the Federal system, which is also the most overcrowded (though the two are obviously related)...
posted by humuhumu at 1:52 AM on July 28, 2003

Relevant statistics.
posted by talos at 3:49 AM on July 28, 2003

Indeed, the US are the world leader in prison population, both in relative and absolute numbers. So much about that "land of the free" part of the national anthem. I wonder if the increase has anything to do with Sep. 11? Nah, couldn't be...
posted by Eloquence at 5:31 AM on July 28, 2003

I love the fact that the Maldives has 6 people in prison. But now I'm intrigued to know what they've been jailed for!
posted by daveg at 5:51 AM on July 28, 2003

I wonder if the increase has anything to do with Sep. 11? Nah, couldn't be...

More to do with the "War On Drugs*" probably. The odd thing is, I believe that crime's been falling steadily since it's peak around 1974. Back then, from everything I've been told by city dwellers of that era, things were truly nuts out on the street**. People responded by toughening up a bit. Sadly, it's swung waaay too far. The dumbest part of it is that to make room for drug-offenders who recieve ridiculous sentences, we wind up paroling the truly dangerous.

*the war's over. the drugs won. let's deal with the reality of the situation

**the causes of all this were manifold and complicated-economics, racial tension, poorly admistered cities, corruption. But people's fears at the time were legitamite. The after affects were manifold too--white flight, decaying public housing, citzen-police mistrust. Our cities have become somewhat safer*** and that's a good thing, encouraging revitalization, but these issues need to be dealt with

***my father, new york born & bred, lived in the city and other urban areas until the early 70's and worked in them until around 1980 or so. Now that I'm working and about to be living there, they worry. They still have a vision that it's like it was around '74. I evn remmeber driving home from visiting a relative in the city, and somewhere in midtown, watching two guys break into a knife fight. For a lotta people isolated from cities that's the vison of Urban America they have. Sadly, it's promoted by the media, mainly cause it makes good copy.
posted by jonmc at 5:59 AM on July 28, 2003

daveg: there's something wrong with that statistic.
First of all if the total number of prisoners were 6, that would make the Maldives a country with ~130 times more prisons then prisoners!
Brutality and torture at the Maafushi prison, south of Male on Maldives is undermining the security of Maldives, says Ibrahim Luthfee.
The linked site shows that the Maldives are anything but an island paradise... I think the (islamic) government might not be reporting the truth to the UN. Their prisons seem to be rather horrible.
posted by talos at 6:05 AM on July 28, 2003

study finds small letters annoying
posted by signal at 6:27 AM on July 28, 2003

Lots of money to be made in running jails.

The business of incarceration is booming, with revenues passing the $1 billion mark in 1998.
posted by gottabefunky at 6:36 AM on July 28, 2003

Study finds small letters
posted by johnnyboy at 6:38 AM on July 28, 2003

Lots of money to be made in running jails.

Actually, not so much. Lots of revenue to be made in running prisons, but not much profit. Certainly in the UK, the private prison operators involved with the prison system are either making losses, finding it very hard to make any kind of a profit, or trying to get out of the game full stop. There have been a number of cases where prisons contracted out to the private sector have been brought back under the public sector umbrella because of operating concerns. One private prison in particular (Parc, in South Wales) has been an utter mess ever since it opened. Flip side of that is, one or two private prisons absolutely excel (Altcourse in Liverpool; Blakenhurst in the Midlands - well, the latter did when I was working there for a while; has gone downhill since then). Injecting some fresh minds and ideas into the places helped enormously.

Private involvement seems to go either way: the benefits can be great when it comes off, but the downside is very noticeable. And in almost all cases, the main place where costs are cut (unsurprising, given that its c80% of budget) is in staff costs. Either wages are lower than in the public sector or fewer officers are used. Both of those almost always lead to trouble.
posted by humuhumu at 6:47 AM on July 28, 2003

Of course, if you lock up more people, you'll have less crime. I mean, duh.

Eventualy we'll get everyone locked up except god fearing, church on sunday, soccer mom's and the rest of 'em will either be in jail or unable to vote.
posted by delmoi at 7:23 AM on July 28, 2003

Aside from internal conditions, the main problem with switching to a private prison system is that you create a market for slaveworkers. If it becomes profitable to get people locked up, the numbers might climb even higher.
posted by Eloquence at 7:43 AM on July 28, 2003

Surprisingly, according to that study, only 15% of the growth was due to drug offenses.

That being said, I can't help but think that our country would be a better place if we stopped spending money to lock up people who use and distribute weed, and shift all that saved money over to improved public schools.

I guess I'm just a damned liberal hippie... libertarian.
posted by mosch at 7:46 AM on July 28, 2003

The scariest side effect of the war on drugs is illegitimacy. It amazes me how eager we as a society are to lock up nonviolent drug offenders--especially in light of our bewilderment as their children grow up, fatherless, into a life of crime.
posted by trharlan at 7:51 AM on July 28, 2003

Apologies for the awful, awful syntax. Hope the meaning is clear.


posted by trharlan at 7:54 AM on July 28, 2003

Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness, is reportedly currently working on a book about the American Prison System. You can find it cited on the jacket of Reefer Madness, or buried somewhere in this old-ish interview. I'm looking forward to it.
posted by Ufez Jones at 8:21 AM on July 28, 2003

The US prison system is starting to resemble a Gulag (although decentralized), and I wonder - when will it start to create remote penal colonies in it's far flung colonial posessions, like the British Empire of old?
posted by troutfishing at 10:08 AM on July 28, 2003

Man, we sure are strict !!

2 million Americans in prison is what, 1 in 150? Edging up on 1 percent of the population -- *so criminal* they have to be put behind bars. Wonder why the population is so unhappy they resort to crime? What was it like in 1900? What's changed?

Anyone know what percentage of Americans is arrested or ticketed every year & not sent to prison? Diverted to educational correction programs instead? & the grand total is?

Australia was populated from criminal types, yet they're down in the 38-40 range of prisoners per capita along with Canada & the UK.
posted by Twang at 12:09 PM on July 28, 2003

I wouldn't put the UK there with Canada and Australia. The UK is at around 120 prisoenrs per 100,000 - been rising dramatically in recent years. Off the top of my head, I'm pretty sure Australia has seen an increase, too. Not sure of their proportion, though, but I think it's lower than the UK. One area where Australia does score highly - higher than any other industrialised country, I believe - is in its proportion of privatised facilities. Something like 25%, but don't quote me on that.
posted by humuhumu at 1:54 AM on July 29, 2003

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