Home > Law, Politics > One out of a hundred Americans in prison

One out of a hundred Americans in prison

March 1, 2008

The Pew Center On The States reports that about one out of a hundred Americans are in jail or prison right now.  That means an even more appalling percentage will have prison records and cannot participate in our economy beyond a minimal (or illegal) level.  It’s more than Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, more than any of those countries we’re accustomed to regarding as examples of oppression.

The article says we spend “more than $49 billion” to be the worldwide imprisonment leader but that’s just the up-front cost.  By exiling so many people from the legitimate economy and creating a vast criminal infrastructure for common street drugs (let’s face it this is mostly about drugs) the cost to our economy will dwarf the cost of damaging it.  The war on drugs is a giant hemmoraging injury to our economy.  We have to stop it. 

If only there were some historical example we could learn from, where the war on a drug turned out to be more damaging than the drug itself.  Hmm… it seems there must be something but I can’t quite remember what it is.  Maybe I should go have a few beers and forget the whole thing.

Notes:

  • ***Dave, Paul, and Les open up major cans of whup-ass following the Pew report.

  • One out of six federal inmates is in for marijuana-related offenses, more than are in for violent crime.
  • I don’t actually drink beer; that was just snark.
  • The War On Drugs falls disproportionately on the poor and on people of color.
  • Baltimore Sun report on this story gives the following example:
    There are 23,342 people incarcerated in Maryland, according to the Pew report. “And roughly 70 percent of them are in prison for drug or drug-related offenses,” Anderson said. “And of that 70 percent, 92 percent are African-American.”

  • WCBSTV report on this story
Categories: Law, Politics
  1. Lucas
    March 1, 2008 at 14:26 | #1

    “If only there were some historical example we could learn from, where the war on a drug turned out to be more damaging than the drug itself.  Hmm… it seems there must be something but I can’t quite remember what it is.  Maybe I should go have a few beers and forget the whole thing.”

    Actually prohibition did work.  You see, it reduced consumption of alcohol, and that’s all you could ask for.

    Sheesh, do some research before you post.

  2. Ted
    March 1, 2008 at 17:53 | #2

    We singlemindedly focus on some short term result such that we ignore the effect.

    Case in point would be the Taliban and Al-Quaeda when we supported them in Afghanistan. They opposed the Russians/Soviets not because they loved freedom, but because the invaders wanted the women emancipated and educated (at least in the nominal sense) and the society secularized. We hated the Soviets and didn’t really give a sh*t about blue-burqua’d women getting their heads blown off in soccer stadiums until it became fashionable to care. Oh shocked we were at the depravity of it all.

    Incarceration is a lot like that; there’s a result (the war on drugs), and an effect (poverty and incarceration). But we won’t really care until the cows come home to roost. (I guess that means we’ll never care.)

    White flight is really an interesting phenomena. There’s fear of the poor and uneducated living next door, and somehow we figure that the correct response is not to educate and elevate from poverty, but to 1) incarcerate, and 2) failing that, to flee where it’s perceived to be temporarily safer.

    Socially wasteful? Very. Profitable? I think so.

  3. March 2, 2008 at 13:32 | #3

    I suppose that if we in the USA did as they do in China..just execute instead of locking up criminals..or maybe in Saudi Arabia where a theg has his hand cut off for the first offense and only executed with repeat offenses then we might have the kind of prison percentages as these countries…and of course depending on what one believes of what one reads about Russia of today..crime is rampant and the police are hesitant to lock up criminals in fear that they might be henchmen of the politicians.don’t know about Russia but I have lived among the Muslims and have noted some of those men without a hand..

  4. March 3, 2008 at 12:28 | #4

    I suppose that if we in the USA did as they do in China..just execute instead of locking up criminals..or maybe in Saudi Arabia where a theg has his hand cut off for the first offense and only executed with repeat offenses then we might have the kind of prison percentages as these countries

    What are you opinions on locking up people here in the USA? Especially those on drug charges, I am just interested.

    Anyways, here in the US it costs more to execute than it does to keep someone locked up using data from a few years ago. But even if it didn’t it just makes no sense to me to kill someone for killing. And it doesn’t seem to deter criminals to have the threat of death, so I just fail to see the point.

    I agree with Ted, we need to educate and do more to help those at the lower end. Any organization is only as good as those at the bottom or the weakest members.

  5. March 7, 2008 at 02:21 | #5

    But even if it didn’t it just makes no sense to me to kill someone for killing

    That statement makes as much sense to me as saying “it makes no sense to deny freedom to (incarcerate) someone who denies freedom to another (kidnapping).”

    :cheese:

  6. March 7, 2008 at 09:47 | #6

    And it doesn’t seem to deter criminals to have the threat of death, so I just fail to see the point.

    Somewhere I read about a study (but I have no reference, sorry) that said the certainty of even a relatively small punishment can be a strong deterrent.  Instead criminals face a very low probability of draconian punishments.  Standard gambling psychology suggests that it won’t be an effective deterrent.

  7. March 7, 2008 at 09:55 | #7

    it just makes no sense to me to kill someone for killing

    it makes no sense to deny freedom to (incarcerate) someone who denies freedom to another (kidnapping).

    Right except there’s one problem with your analogy. In all cases but the death penalty, if you got the wrong guy, based on new evidence you can let them go. If you sentence someone to death there isn’t much you can do if new evidence proves innocence.

  8. March 8, 2008 at 19:54 | #8

    No, that statement was/is always just too simple.

  9. Jim Bisnett
    May 16, 2008 at 09:58 | #9

    What do you feel about the “scared straight” programs.  I think the strongest deterrent is to start with teaching the children about the cold realities of the prison reality caused by drug use and dealing.

  10. May 16, 2008 at 10:11 | #10

    Refer to my earlier comment, that the certainty of small punishment is more effective than the small possibility of a harsh punishment.  And several drugs simply need to be legalized, period.  Our present system criminalizes what is within the range of essentially normal behavior.

    The biggest deterrent to drug use, legal or not, is hope, a reason to look toward the future.  In poor neighborhoods, with decaying schools and drug-war-driven violence, there isn’t a lot of that to go around.  We unrealistically ask poor kids to look up at the tiny patch of sky above them and imagine the landscape if they could climb up the hole and out.

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