Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Relative Captivity: Realities

UPDATE: A November 19, 2007 Reuter's news story on a report just issued by the JFA Institute, a Washington criminal-justice research group, stated: "The number of Americans in prison has risen eight-fold since 1970, with little impact on crime but at great cost to taxpayers and society, researchers said in a report calling for a major justice-system overhaul." The authors of the report included eight criminologists from major U.S. public universities.

"There is no evidence that keeping people in prison longer makes us any safer," JFA President James Austin, a co-author of the report, said in a release. The report said the prison population is projected to grow by another 192,000 in five years, at a cost of $27.5 billion to build and operate additional prisons.

[The report] recommends shorter sentences and parole terms, alternative punishments, more help for released inmates and decriminalizing recreational drugs as steps that would cut the prison population in half, save $20 billion a year and ease social inequality without endangering the public.

"The massive incarceration of young males from mostly poor- and working-class neighborhoods, and the taking of women from their families and jobs, has crippled their potential for forming healthy families and achieving economic gains," it said.

At last count, some seven million Americans were behind bars, on probation or on parole. That’s one out of every 32 adults.

Over two million Americans are in prison or jail: nearly 500 out of every 100,000 U.S. residents.

More than half of those in prison or jail are mentally ill. Among women prisoners, the percentage is higher.

In four years, if present trends continue, one out of every 178 Americans will be living in prison. If all these prisoners were to live in the same prison, it would be bigger than the cities of Atlanta, Baltimore and Denver—combined.

When figures were released for the year 2005, Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project in Washington, said this: “Today’s figures fail to capture incarceration’s impact on the thousands of children left behind by mothers in prison.”

Right now, about a million and a half children in the U.S. have a parent in prison. Most of these children are under the age of 10. Another eight million have had a parent behind bars at some time in their lives.

At any given time, a million fathers are imprisoned. Most women in prison have children under age 18. Most parents in prison either lived with their children or had regular contact with them before they were incarcerated.

In the late 1990s, a majority of state prisoners reported they had never had a visit with their children.

More than 60% of prisoners reported that their families lived more than 100 miles away.

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