Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Prison Planet

Speaking of prison shows (I rented from NetFlix every episode of "OZ" and I also enjoy a show on MSNBC called "Lockdown") I am not sure how to explain my fascination with prison dramas. But that doesn't negate the incredible impact that the growing rate of incarceration in this country is having on the population as a whole. A recently published article in Boston Review asked the question: "Why Are So Many Americans in Prison?" The answer, not unlike the answer to many other questions asked today, is, at least in part, "the profit motive." I have been following a web site called the November Coalition for years now. The site exists, among its many purposes, to educate the public about the ever-increasing number of non-violent offenders who are doing long, hard time for simple possession of a controlled substance.

As of 2005, there are 2 million people locked up in federal, state, and county facilities. Though crime rates are down, that's up more than 600% since the 1970s. More than 6 million people are under state supervision in the form of parole or probation. The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world.

Black men are 6% of the U.S. population but over 40% of our prison population.

Every day in the United States 200 new jail cells are constructed.

Most prisoners come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Most have not completed high school. Many can barely read. Roughly one-third were been unemployed before imprisonment. Another third had annual incomes of less than $5,000.

Children of incarcerated parents have increased risk of anxiety, depression, aggression, truancy, attention disorders and poor scholastic performance.

Black people are 7.8 times more likely to be imprisoned than whites, when convicted of the same crime.

Prisons cost taxpayers more than $32 billion a year. Every year that an inmate spends in prison costs $22,000. An individual sentenced to five years for a $300 theft costs the public more than $100,000. The cost of a life term averages $1.5 million.

States are spending more money on prisons than education. Over the course of the last 20 years, the amount of money spent on prisons was increased by 570% while that spent on elementary and secondary education was increased by only 33%.

It seems to me that in this country we could do much better than this system of warehousing fellow human beings at such a tremendous cost to all people in America.

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