Posted by: endithinks | March 2, 2009

On Prisons in America

This is a repost of a New York Times article.  It reminds me of a song from System of a Down.

The New York Times
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March 3, 2009

Prison Spending Outpaces All but Medicaid

One in every 31 adults, or 7.3 million Americans, is in prison, on parole or probation, at a cost to the states of $47 billion in 2008, according to a new study.

Criminal correction spending is outpacing budget growth in education, transportation and public assistance, based on state and federal data. Only Medicaid spending grew faster than state corrections spending, which quadrupled in the past two decades, according to the report today by the Pew Center on the States, the first breakdown of spending in confinement and supervision in the past seven years.

The increases in the number of people in some form of correctional control occurred even as crime rates sharply declined, by about 25 percent in the past two decades.

At a time when states are facing huge budget shortfalls, prisons, which hold 1.5 million adults, are driving the spending increases.

States have shown a preference for prison spending even though it is cheaper to monitor convicts in community programs, including probation and parole, which require offenders to check in regularly with law enforcement officers. A survey of 34 states found that states spent an average of $29,000 a year on prisoners compared to $1,250 on probationers and $2,750 on parolees. The study found that despite increased spending on prisons, recidivism rates remained largely unchanged.

Pew researchers say that as states trim essential services like education and health care, prison budgets continue to grow. Those priorities are misguided, the study says.

“States are looking to make cuts that will have long-term harmful effects,” said Sue Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States. “Corrections is one area they can cut and still have good or better outcomes than what they are doing now.”

Over all, two-thirds of offenders, or about 5.1 million people in 2008 were on probation or parole. The study found that states are failing to increase spending for community supervision in proportion to their growing caseloads. About $9 out of $10 spent on corrections goes to prison financing. One in 11 African-Americans, or 9.2 percent, are under correctional control, compared with one in 27 Latinos (3.7 percent), and one in 45 white people (2.2 percent) .

Only one out of 89 women is behind bars or monitored, compared to one out of 18 men.

States with the highest proportion of people under some form of punishment regimen include Georgia (1 in 13), Indiana (1 in 26), Louisiana (1 in 26), and Ohio (1 in 25).

Peter Greenwood, the executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Evidence Based Practice, an advocacy group that favors rehabilitative approaches, said that states started ramping up their financing for prisons in the 1980s during the last big crime wave and never stopped.

“Basically, when we made these investments, public safety and crime was the number one concern of voters, so politicians were passing all kinds of laws to increase sentences,” he said. President Bill Clinton also signed legislation to increase sentences for federal convicts, he said. “Now, crime is down, but we’re living with that legacy: the bricks and mortar and the politicians who feel like they have to talk tough every time they talk about crime.”

Mr. Greenwood said that prisons and jails, along with their powerful prison guard unions, service contracts, and high-profile sheriffs and police chiefs, are in a much better position to protect their interests than are parole and probation officers.

“Traditionally, probation and parole is at the bottom of the totem pole,” Mr. Greenwood said. “They’re just happy every time they don’t lose a third of their budget.”

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