Never pass up a chance to sit down or relieve yourself. -old Apache saying

Saturday, February 13, 2016

state vs federal prisons

We all have heard that the United States of America jails more people per capita than any other country in the world. We also have the largest total population in jail, in this, the "land of the free."

We also know that the War on Drugs has a lot to do with these inflated incarceration rates, and yet, ending the War on Drugs has been easier said than done. We are still suffering from puritanical attitudes about drug use. 

Looking at the statistics, it appears that most of the jailing frenzy has been taking place in the states and not at the federal level. This tells us that the War on the War on Drugs either needs to be fought at the state level, or the federal government needs to pass some sweeping laws to override the excessive state laws. Given the state of our federal government, dominated as it is by Republicans, who generally have a harsh and unforgiving view of even victimless crime, don't look for anything from the feds for the foreseeable future.

But on the contrary, you will notice that during the 1990's, during President Bill Clinton's two terms, the incarceration numbers really skyrocketed. Would Hillary Clinton replicate what happened under her husband's presidency?  

This story was produced by the Prison Policy Initiative.

Tracking State Prison Growth in 50 States

Briefing by Peter Wagner
Over the last three decades of the 20th century, the United States engaged in an unprecedented prison-building boom that has given our nation the highest incarceration rate in the world. Among people with experience in criminal justice policy matters, the “hockey stick curve” of the national incarceration rate is well known; but until now more detailed data on the incarceration rates for individual states has been harder to come by. This briefing fills the gap with a series of more than 100 graphs showing prison growth (and sometimes decline) for every state in the nation to encourage states to confront how their criminal policy choices undermine our national welfare.

Ending the U.S. experiment with mass incarceration requires us to focus on state policy because individual states are the most active incarcerating bodies in the nation:

Figure 1: Graph showing the number of people (per 100,000 national population at that time) that is confined in state, local and federal correctional facilities from 1925 to the present. State prisons are the largest part. (See as raw numbers.)

Most (57%) people incarcerated in the United States have been convicted of violating state law and are imprisoned in a state prison. Another 30% are confined in local jails — which are outside the scope of this briefing — generally either for minor violations of state law or because they are waiting to be tried for charges of violating state law. Federal-level policy directly accounts for only the 10% of people behind bars in the U.S.; they have either been convicted of violating a federal law or are being detained by the immigration authorities and are awaiting potential deportation to anther country.

In the aggregate, these state-level policy choices have been the largest driver of our unprecedented national experiment with mass incarceration, but not every state has contributed equally or consistently to this phenomenon. In the U.S.,each state is responsible for making its own policy choices about which people to lock up and how for long. We can’t end our nation’s experiment with mass incarceration without grappling with the wide variety of state-level criminal justice policies, practices and trends.

Take, for example, the below comparison in Figure 2 of the incarceration rate for the United States (in yellow) with data from five individual states (in orange). We can see that Minnesota has long been less likely to incarcerate than other states, but also, like the country as a whole, markedly increased its use of imprisonment in the late 20th century. On the other extreme, Alabama and Louisiana have consistently maintained above-average rates of incarceration, and their use of the prison continues to grow.

Figure 2: Focusing on only the national trend obscures the large and varied differences in both the pace and direction of state changes over time.

But another, contrary, trend is visible in figure 2: the recent rapid decline of imprisonment in the populous states of New York (starting in 1999) and California (beginning in 2006 and accelerating in 2009). The number of people incarcerated in those two states is so large that prison population changes within those states are, in large part, responsible for the recent drop in the national incarceration rate. So, while the United States incarceration rate has dropped for four years in a row, over that same time period 15 states have made policy choices that increased their individual incarceration rates.

Original is here with many more state-by-state graphs.

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