We're Number One! (Prison Edition)

Via Crooked Timber, the BJS (Bureau of Justice Statistics) notes that the US now has nearly 7 million adults either in jail, in prison, on probation, or on parole. “At year-end one in every 31 adults were under correctional supervision, which was 3.2 percent of the U.S. adult population.” Damn!

Of that 7 million, about 2.1 million are behind bars, and the largest portion of those are people in state prisons. When you add up the state and federal prison systems, about a quarter of every American behind bars is in the clink for drug offenses – and drug arrests have been increasing.

(Public order offenses, in contrast, have apparently and quite suddenly dropped way down. Anyone know what that’s about?)

I do drugs, sometimes (not often, because I’m too cheap to spend money on drugs). The vast majority of my friends either do drugs or have done drugs. I bet that’s true of most of the folks in congress, and most cops, as well. What’s wrong with this picture? (That’s the question I’d like to see every politician, every crime policy expert and every pundit answer: have you ever done illegal drugs?)

As bad as the waste of tax dollars is, the injustice of keeping people behind bars for victimless crimes is worse. The “war on drugs” is an expensive failure; a public health approach would be far more sensible, but is politically unthinkable. And as long as the main victims of our drug war are poor urban blacks – a group with no money to give to politicians and no voice in government – change will remain politically unthinkable.

With a few exceptions, I don’t think people should be put in prison for property offenses, either; I’d rather see most of those folks with a band around their ankles, living on their own dime, holding jobs, and having their paychecks garnished to pay restitution to their victims. Sure, monitoring is expensive, but so is keeping people in prison.

However, I do want violent people behind bars – and most of the increase in the US prison population is due to an increase in prisoners convicted of violent crimes. And it’s hard to argue effectively against the “throw ‘em in prison” strategy when violent crime has in fact been going down.

This entry posted in Whatever. Bookmark the permalink. 

6 Responses to We're Number One! (Prison Edition)

  1. 1
    acm says:

    (Public order offenses, in contrast, have apparently and quite suddenly dropped way down. Anyone know what that’s about?)

    I don’t know for sure, but the down-tick there seems to correspond directly with up-ticks in the drug and property lines, so it’s probably a shift in the charges brought for some particular sort of crime (e.g., maybe street-corner drug dealers used to be charged for disorderly conduct and now are brought for drugs for sentencing reasons). more likely a reflection of law enforcement strategy than citizen behavior…

  2. 2
    Nick Kiddle says:

    I think “drug ware” should be the word for those T-shirts I used to see at university with cunning logos like “Adidhash” and so forth. Or would that be drug wear?

  3. 3
    Rock says:

    Amp,

    Thanks for the latest facts, and attention to our third world issue at home.

    This is one of those things that just defy sense. Nixon prior to his down fall needed to reduce crime in South Capitol and vicinity; his back yard. Studies showed Heroin was the root of much crime. Methadone was offered as a remedy, (This is not an endorsement of that modality.) it worked. Crime dropped. Treatment as an affective response was demonstrated. Nixon resigned and the new philosophy became the War on Drugs. (War, kind of a prevalent theme in our society) We now have Drug Czar’s and a bigger problem then ever. Tucson has the highest level of identity theft in the nation. This is directly related to Meth manufacture, importation, and use. (Tweekers, too much time, needing money.)

    The biased application of the laws on the poor and minorities is shameful. The use of drugs on women to manipulate and enslave them is growing. (Female incarceration is growing as a result.) There are countless examples of how this costs society, and how treatment is far less costly in dollars. (It is far less costly in suffering as well.) However our current attitudes toward justice seem to perpetuate the myth that we should proceed along this path of arrest, incarceration and release. Many Judges are ordering treatment, however the funding is not there for adequate modalities. Some Drug Courts with marked increases in success (Based on time drug free) offer 1 drop (drug test) and two hours of therapy a week (One private and one group.) on top of probation and with just this minimum effort get improved results. We are and have been pushing for an integrated approach of the Police working with us in treatment, the courts and our institutions (schools, churches, community services, healthcare) to create an environment conducive to recovery for life, with Jail used for time out and dangerous offenders. (However mental health institutions would do better here in many cases. Self medication for mental illness is the start for many addicts. The jails have become de-facto mental institutions for the mentally ill, that and the streets aka homeless…. Another topic. Hep C. HIV. STDs, domestic violence, mental illness, prostitution, all could be dramatically reduced as drug use is a primary vector for these behaviors and diseases. The ancillary effects are the dependants, women, children, the weak, the vulnerable get victimized by the fallout. (Job-fare the Governments answer to abandoned women with kids.)

    Your statement that you and your friends “do drugs” is not really material. Folks that “do drugs” drink a beer or two, Grande late with a 3 shots, smoke at a party, use tobacco, whatever. That recreational usage for most is not the type that relates to jail and treatment. (However, I never met a dope fiend that thought they would get hooked.) The kind that gets one that kind of attention is when the dope uses you. When we get to where nothing matters as much as that next fix… trying to get back to that first high… now we are talking turkey. All the same your points are right on and as I say it is a mystery to many why not more widely discussed or acted upon. I think it helps perpetuate a system of fear and control allowing the Government to take away civil rights, however I am a bit of a radical. I do know the cost in suffering is beyond computation, and need not be. Blessings.

  4. 4
    AnarchaFeminist says:

    And it’s hard to argue effectively against the “throw ‘em in prison” strategy when violent crime has in fact been going down.

    Not really. For one thing, correlation doesn’t prove causation. And more importantly, there are many countries with shorter prison sentences for violent crime and more emphasis on rehabilitation and their violent crime rates are on the whole no higher than ours (lower in some cases).

    I also dislike terms like “violent people,” because in my opinion we’re all violent people. If a particular individual hasn’t committed an act of violence yet in his life then it could very well have as much to do with luck as with his own personal virtue.

  5. 5
    Glaivester says:

    And more importantly, there are many countries with shorter prison sentences for violent crime and more emphasis on rehabilitation and their violent crime rates are on the whole no higher than ours (lower in some cases).

    If you mean that European countries and Canada have a lower crime rate than the U.S., then yes, I think that is true.

    However, I don’t think you can fairly compare our crime rates to those of other Western countries without considering the U.S.’s unique racial dynamics.

    The U.S. has large black and Latin American populations (about a quarter of our population is black or Latino), and European countries do not. Blacks commit a disproportionately large share of U.S. crime, and Latinos commit a somewhat smaller, but still disproportionately large share of U.S. crime.

    This does not necessarily mean that blacks and Latinos are inherently more criminal than other ethnicities. But it does indicate that a big part of the reason for our higher crime rate is related to issues of race in this country that are not present to the same extent in European countries. (Or at least weren’t – the Muslim riots in france may indicate that Europe is going to have some of the same racial conflicts we have been experienceing in the U.S.)

  6. 6
    Glaurung says:

    Don’t forget, a lot (I’m tempted to say most) violent crimes and property crimes are the creation of the drug war. Illegal drugs are expensive, so addicts are driven to do desperate, illegal, often violent acts to get the money to pay for them. And because the profits from illegal drugs are so high, the business of selling them has become a violent business.