Friday, March 18, 2005

Prison Population

A few days ago, I had a discussion with a reader about prisons and prison population. He was under the impression that prisons were full of low-level drug offenders and thus it wasn't fair for me to advocate a harsh penal system since most low-level drug offenders need counseling rather than punishment. I told him I would do some research into prison population, so I did.

The first interesting bit of data I found
was a chart on the DOJ website. In 2001, 49% of the prison population was in prison for violent crimes, 19% for property crimes, and 20% for drug crimes. Right off the bat, we can see that drug offenders do not make up most or even half or even one third of prisoners.

Furthermore, according to a handy chart available
here, between 1995 and 2001, violent crime accounted for 63% of the growth in prison population, while drugs accounted for only 15%.

Also, this chart has some interest recidivism stats, though they are from 1994:

• Within 3 years from their release in 1994 C 67.5% of the prisoners were rearrested for a new offense (almost exclusively a felony or a serious misdemeanor) 46.9% were reconvicted for a new crime 25.4% were resentenced to prison for a new crime 51.8% were back in prison, serving time for a new prison sentence or for a technical violation of their release, like failing a drug test, missing an appointment with their parole officer, or being arrested for a new crime.

• Released prisoners with the highest rearrest rates were robbers (70.2%), burglars (74.0%), larcenists (74.6%), motor vehicle thieves (78.8%), those in prison for possessing or selling stolen property (77.4%), and those in prison for possessing, using, or selling illegal weapons (70.2%).

• The 272,111 offenders discharged in 1994 had accumulated 4.1 million arrest charges before their most recent imprisonment and another 744,000 charges within 3 years of release.

Do you see what I see? It ain't the drug offenders coming back in droves (though they do come back), it's the property offenders. Obviously prison doesn't suck enough to make them stop the madness.

That last bullet point illustrates something we've been saying for years: A small number of people commit the majority of crimes here in the US. 272,111 people generated 4,100,000 arrest charges before theye were captured and 744,000 within three years after they were released!

What this means is that the average prisoner commits 15 crimes before he's caught, and almost 3 crimes within three years of his release! We are not reaching these people. We are not... adequately conveying our disgust at their lifestyle. We are not making ourselves clear.

Maybe someday we'll actually convince them that we don't suffer criminals very well. Until then, keep an eye on your stuff.


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