|Wednesday, 29 October 2008 19:20|
More than one in every 100 adults in the United States is behind bars.[i] If the 2.3 million people behind bars were a city, it would be the fourth largest in the country.[ii] The U.S. prison system costs taxpayers more than $60 billion per year and it is bursting from the seams, so projections for costs will continue to skyrocket in the absence of significant reforms. Such reforms are needed not only to reduce costs, but also to ensure fairness and humane treatment behind prison walls.
Because of deeply flawed and discriminatory sentencing policies, our prisons hold a disproportionate number of people of color, and people with mental illness and addiction problems. At mid-year 2007, the rate at which African-American men were serving sentences was an astounding 4,618 per 100,000. The comparable rates for Hispanic males were 1,747 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 and, for white males, 773 per 100,000.[iii] This means black males were six times more likely, and Hispanic males twice as likely, to be held in custody than white males.[iv] According to the most recent report by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 56% of state prisoners, 45% of federal prisoners, and 64% of jail inmates in the United States suffer from mental illness.[v] Between 60 and 80 percent of individuals under supervision of the criminal justice system in the U.S. were either under the influence of alcohol or other drugs when they committed an offense, committed the offense to support a drug addiction, were charged with a drug-related crime, or were using drugs or alcohol regularly.[vi] Experts also estimate that people with developmental disabilities may constitute as much as 10 percent of the prison population.[vii]
Grossly deficient medical and mental health care plague prisons and jails across the country. In 2005, a federal court found that in California a prisoner dies a needless death due to inadequate medical care or malpractice every six to seven days.[viii] Prisoners are also threatened daily by sexual violence, a frighteningly common occurrence in the nation's corrections systems. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that there are more than 8,000 reported incidents of sexual assault in prisons nationwide each year. Staff sexual misconduct comprised 42 percent of reported allegations while 37 percent involved prisoner-on-prisoner violence. The number of sexually violent incidents that goes unreported due to victims' fear of reprisal cannot even be estimated.[ix]
The profound failures of the U.S. prison system defy our common values of human dignity, justice, and respect. If Fyodor Dostoevsky is correct when he argues, "A society should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens but by how it treats its criminals," then Americans should truly be ashamed. Dramatic reforms to our prison system are long overdue. This section provides a comprehensive summary of practical policy options to bring about significant improvements to our nation's prisons and jails. The prison section priorities focus on needed reforms to return the rule of law to U.S. prisons and jails, reduce recidivism, and improve transparency in the world's largest prison system. This chapter concludes with a recommendation to the next president to examine the current use of the prison system and its impact on the economy, public safety, and the welfare of our society.
[i] One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008. Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, January 2008.
[ii] See Bureau Of Justice Statistics, U.S. Dep’t Of Justice, Publ’n No. 221944 Prison Inmates at Midyear 2007 Bulletin (June 2008), available at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/pim07.pdf; Bureau Of Justice Statistics, U.S. Dep’t Of Justice, Publ’n No. 221945 Jail Inmates at Midyear 2007 Bulletin (June 2008), available at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/jim07.pdf.
[iv] Sabol, William J. & Heather Couture, Prison Inmates at Midyear 2007, U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, June 2008, available http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/pim07.pdf.
[v] James, Doris J. & Lauren E. Glaze, Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report 1, Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 14, 2006.
[vi] "Substance abuse and the prison population: A three-year study by Columbia University reveals widespread substance abuse among the offender population." Corrections Today, 60(6), 82-89, Belenko, S., Peugh, J., Califano, J.A., Usdansky, M., & Foster, S.E. (1998) as cited in "Integrating Substance Abuse Treatment and Criminal Justice Supervision," Douglas B. Marlowe, J.D., Ph.D. NIDA Science and Practice Perspectives, Volume 2, Number 1 - September 2003, http://www.drugabuse.gov/PDF/Perspectives/vol2no1/02Perspectives-Integrating.pdf
[viii] Gibbons, John J. & Nicholas de B. Katzenbach, Confronting Confinement, The Commission of Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons, June 2006.
[ix] Beck, Allen J. & Timothy A. Hughes, Sexual Violence Reported by Correctional Authorities, U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, July 2005.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 23 April 2009 15:56|