Hello everyone, I am here to speak to you today about the Two Hundred Years of the Penitentiary project to increase public involvement in the discussion of correctional issues. More importantly, why we as citizens should be concerned about prison and jail overcrowding and the best approaches for remedying the crowding problem. One of America s biggest problems today is the overcrowding of our prisons. This is a problem we all should be concerned about. One reason why is because it is our tax dollars that are being used to build these prisons instead of being used to educate our youth. Therefore, if this problem is not solved soon, the overcrowding will keep rising along with taxes to buy new beds and build new prisons. So then, we need to start taking a look at which people are getting put into these jails and prisons. What kinds of crimes they committed to be placed in these institutions. A lot, of these people in prison are first time non-violent offenders, who probably really don t need to put be in prison. Which means an extra space for someone who should be incarcerated far more than the first time non-violent offender. Which leads me to my next point. Some studies have argued that the population of prisons and jails will rise substantially because of the increased prison sentences, limitations on the ability of repeat offenders to earn credits to reduce time, and prisoners required to be sentenced to prison rather than jail. Prison sentences are expensive, they tend to make people worse then when they first entered the system, and they have not proven it to be an effective method crime control. Ex-prisoners generally commit more crimes when they get out and frequently more serious crimes than the ones which first took them to prison. On the other hand, when people who are punished with alternative punishments, and commit other crimes very, rarely are they more violent ones.
The system is very expensive; it costs more than $20 thousand a year to keep each prisoner locked up. The increase in America s prison population shows no sign of slowing
down. The number of Americans behind bars in this country grew by more than 76,000 last year. That s enough new inmates to fill Camden Yards stadium in Baltimore, then fill half of it again. In order to make room for all those inmates in prison, the U.S. needs to build about 200 new cells every day at about $50 thousand apiece. That s $10 million daily. According to Vince Schiraldi of the Justice Policy Institute, We ve cut spending for higher education by 18 percent and increased prisons by 30 percent.
However, crime has come down steadily over the past seven years. And experts say prisons deserve some of the credit. Allen Beck of the US Justice Department says, You re locking up certain high-rate offenders who if they were out would be committing crime. I don t think there s any dispute about that. There is, however, great dispute about spending so much to lock up so many non-violent offenders. Some experts now believe the prison population will keep growing for another 5 to 15 years. The U.S., they say, will soon become the world s most incarcerated nation.
The Following is a list of Statistics obtained from U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics:
On December 31, 1999,
- 1,366,721 prisoners were under Federal or State jurisdiction,
a prison system but who are held outside its facilities)
- the total increased 3.4% from yearend 1998,
less than the average annual growth of 6.5% since yearend 1990.
- there were an estimated 476 prison inmates per 100,000 U.S.
residents — up from 292 at yearend 1990.
- the number of women under the jurisdiction of State or Federal prison
authorities increased 4.4% 1999, reaching 90,668 at yearend, outpacing the
rise in the number of men. The number of men rose 3.3%, totaling 1,276,053
at the end of the year.
On December 31, 1999, State prisons were operating at between 1% and 17% above capacity, while Federal prisons were operating at 32% above capacity.
At the end of 1999 there were 3,408 sentenced black male inmates per 100,000 black males in the United States, compared to 1,335 sentenced Hispanic male inmates per 100,000 Hispanic males and 417 white male inmates per 100,000 white males.
Between 1990 and 1998, the increasing number of violent offenders accounted for 51% of the total growth of the State prison population; 19% of the total growth was
attributable to the increasing number of drug offenders.
Instead, Prison sentences should be reserved for the violent and dangerous criminal. All law-breakers who do not represent a real threat to life in society should be punished differently. Using prison sentences for criminals who are not violent or dangerous is a waste of the taxpayer’s money. Non-violent offenders should be placed into community sanctions, rather then in jail or prison, to free up space for the more serious offenders. Rehabilitative and monitoring options include substance abuse inpatient and outpatient treatment, daily reporting services, urine testing, community service work, job training assistance, cognitive restructuring and pre-trial release supervision.
The following are a list of programs we can use to help us get started.
The substance abuse program screens, assesses and develops treatment plans for sentenced and pre-sentenced offenders with substance abuse problems. Offenders may be court-ordered to residential treatment, outpatient or intensive outpatient services. Residential placements generally require a waiting period, due to bed availability and funding limitations.
The felony urinalysis program, provided at three locations in Macomb County, provides frequent, random urine testing for felony probationers to determine if they are remaining free of drugs and alcohol.
The day reporting program, also available at three sites in Macomb County, provides weekday monitoring of offenders. Misdemeanor offenders and those on conditional bond may also be considered for Court-ordered urine testing.
Township, provides up to 90 days of residential substance abuse treatment for felony probationers and felony probation violators.
The criminality treatment program provides a 20 hour outpatient treatment program also called “cognitive restructuring” — that re-trains offenders to develop non-criminal ways of successfully dealing with and responding to the events in their lives.
In conclusion, I hope that with all these alternatives we have to prison for non-violent offenders, we will be able to start getting rid of the overcrowding in our prisons. Just think of what we could do with all the money that would be saved from building new prisons and renovating new prisons everyday. Finally, I just want to thank all of you for taking the time to hear my thoughts on this growing epidemic in our society today.
Bureau of Justice Statistics Prison Statistics. http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/prisons.htm
(October 6, 2000)
Woodruff, Bob. The Prison Boom: Number of Prisoners Has Doubled in Past 12 Years. http://abcnews.go.com/onair/WorldNewsTonight/wnt990315_woodruff_story.html (October 6, 2000)