Thursday, February 28, 2008

Yeah! We're Number One!

Not that I am really happy about it. In this WashPost article, the USA claims top dog status for the number of persons in jail or prison.

More than one in 100 adults in the United States is in jail or prison, an all-time high that is costing state governments nearly $50 billion a year, in addition to more than $5 billion spent by the federal government, according to a report released today.

With more than 2.3 million people behind bars at the start of 2008, the United States leads the world in both the number and the percentage of residents it incarcerates, leaving even far more populous China a distant second, noted the report by the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States.

But in China there is a distinct possibility that your prison sentence may be punctuated by a gunshot. In that respect perhaps the ChiComms are number one.

The ballooning prison population is largely the result of tougher state and federal sentencing imposed since the mid-1980s. Minorities have been hit particularly hard: One in nine black men age 20 to 34 is behind bars. For black women age 35 to 39, the figure is one in 100, compared with one in 355 white women in the same age group.

While studies generally find that imprisoning more offenders reduces crime, the effect is influenced by changes in the unemployment rate, wages, the ratio of police officers to residents, and the share of young people in the population.

In regards to prison populations, Last year I became involved in a project that seeks to help parolees who at high risk of re-offending.

Currently there are 62,000 prison inmates confined within the NYS Dept. of Correctional Services (DOCS). Of these, about 15% have mental health issues (some extraordinarily serious) and about 78% have substance abuse issues.

There are also about 4,000 vets currently in the system. The information I received is that some of the vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are having serious problems with PTSD, substance abuse and domestic violence. Unfortunately some end up in DOCS. We will be working with the VA to help these guys.

With the reform of the NYS Rockefeller drug laws and the concomitant appeals ensuing, we are looking at a serious influx of seriously screwed up people returning to our communities as they exit the state's prison system.

Right now the recidivism rate is 60% over a three year period; that is, almost two thirds of parolees are back in the state slam within three years of their release.

I'll be attending a three day training conference for this project next month.

If you want to read some really heart-breaking stuff, go here to Prison Talk and listen to some of the mothers, wives and girlfriends of DOCS prisoners. Not that the State or society is to blame, believe me, these guys had to mess up time and time again to get in the slam. But sin is sin and it affects the loved ones too. The site I selected revolves around the Oneida Hub, a constellation of state prisons in Upstate New York within an hour drive east of Syracuse.

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