According to a report released in February, by the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project, 2,319,258 American adults were in prison at the beginning of 2008. The report is called One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008 and takes a look not only at the growth in the number of incarcerations, but also suggests alternatives to jail time.
It’s bad enough that there are so many Americans behind bars, but of particular concern to me is the number of Black adults in prison. According to this report, one in every 11 African-American adults is in prison. That’s crazy! Crazy and probably very true too! Black males now make up almost half of our country’s prison inmates. This is more than double the number of Hispanics in prison (1 in every 27) and four times the number of incarcerated white people (1 in every 45).
I won’t say these figures are wrong, because they’re probably not. But I will echo what many others are saying out there. We need to stop putting people in prison for non-violent offences. I’m all for punishment but punishment doesn’t have to translate to jail time. A “correctional facility” doesn’t have to mean “jail”. The Report also suggests other correctional strategies such as rehab, electronic monitoring, incentive programs, counseling etc.
Our economic crisis is no secret and instead of spending so much on prisons, I think we should save money by revising our spending on corrections. As much as $29,000 a year is spent on every person in prison; while putting people on probation, arranging for counseling etc would cost significantly less (between $1250 to $2950).
Not only will the States be spending much less, but keeping people out of prison also has social implications that many don’t think about. Also, just because we’re Black, doesn’t automatically mean we’re more likely to end up in prison. It’s not in our genes, it’s the circumstances surrounding our communities. I like what BlackNews.com had to say:
“The stock reason for criminalizing a huge segment of a generation of young blacks is that they are crime-prone and lack family values. But reports and studies by the Justice Department, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, as well as universities and foundations confirm that broken homes and bad genes have little to do with crime rates. High joblessness, failing public schools, budget cutbacks in skills training and placement programs, the refusal of employers to hire those with criminal records, and the gaping racial disparity in the drug sentencing laws are the major reasons why far more blacks than whites are behind bars.”
25% of the world’s locked up population is serving time in a US prison. So with more than 2 million people in jail, USA is now the world’s jailbird leader and has more prisoners than any country in the world.
These figures are from early 2008. The economic crisis has peaked in 2008-09 and I’d like to see the figures at the end of 2009. If legislations and attitudes don’t change, I’m pretty sure there’ll be more people in jail by then. To quote BlackNews.com again,
“This increases the urgency for prison and state officials to cease squandering scarce resources on wasteful, racially-flawed criminal justice policies that target mostly, poor, and desperate non violent offenders. The answer is to rely on more sound cost effective and humane programs….”