1 in 100 U.S. Adults Behind Bars, New Study Says
Published: February 28, 2008
For the first time in the nation's history, more than one in 100
adults is behind bars, according to a new report.
Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it
almost 1.6 million. Another 723,000 people are in local jails. The
American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1
is behind bars.
Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic
adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006.
15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages
The report, from the Pew Center on the States, also found that only one
355 white women between the ages of 35 and 39 is behind bars, but that
in 100 black women is.
The report's methodology differed from that used by the Justice
which calculates the incarceration rate by using the total population
than the adult population as the denominator. Using the department's
methodology, about one in 130 Americans is behind bars.
Either way, said Susan Urahn, the center's managing director, "we
really getting the return in public safety from this level of
"We tend to be a country in which incarceration is an easy response to
crime," Ms. Urahn continued. "Being tough on crime is an easy position
take, particularly if you have the money. And we did have the money in
'80s and '90s."
Now, with fewer resources available to the states, the report said,
costs are blowing a hole in state budgets." On average, states spend
7 percent on their budgets on corrections, trailing only healthcare,
education and transportation.
In 2007, according to the National Association of State Budgeting
states spent $44 billion in tax dollars on corrections. That is up from
$10.6 billion in 1987, a 127 increase once adjusted for inflation. With
money from bond issues and from the federal government included, total
spending on corrections last year was $49 billion. By 2011, the report
states are on track to spend an additional $25 billion.
It cost an average of $23,876 to imprison someone in 2005, the most
year for which data is available. But state spending varies widely,
$45,000 a year for each inmate in Rhode Island to just $13,000 in
The cost of medical care is growing by 10 percent annually, the report
a rate that will accelerate as the prison population ages.
About one in nine state government employees works in corrections, and
states are finding it hard to fill those jobs. California spent more
$500 million on overtime alone in 2006.
The number of prisoners in California dropped by 4,000 last year,
Texas's prison system the nation's largest, at about 172,000 inmates.
the Texas legislature approved broad changes to the state's corrections
system, including expansions of drug treatment programs and drug courts
revisions to parole practices.
"Our violent offenders, we lock them up for a very long time —
murderers, child molestors," said John Whitmire, a Democratic state
from Houston and the chairman of the state senate's criminal justice
committee. "The problem was that we weren't smart about nonviolent
offenders. The legislature finally caught up with the public."
He gave an example.
"We have 5,500 D.W.I offenders in prison," he said, including people
driving under the influence who had not been in an accident. "They're
general population. As serious as drinking and driving is, we should
segregate them and give them treatment."
The Pew report recommended diverting nonviolent offenders away from
and using punishments short of reincarceration for minor or technical
violations of probation or parole. It also urged states to consider
release of some prisoners.
Before the recent changes in Texas, Mr. Whitmire said, "we were