This week, the Pew Center on the States released a bombshell study revealing that our country is locking up record numbers of people in jail and prison.
For the first time in history, the U.S. -- which, according to Pew, lock up more people than any other country, including China -- is now putting one out of every 100 people behind bars.
Beyond that shocking headline are some interesting details:
* The South leads: Thanks to its punitive justice policies, the South has led the country's incarceration boom over the last two decades -- and Pew finds 2007 was no exception:
The South led the way, with its population jumping from 623,563 to 641,024-a rise of 2.8 percent. Only three of the 16 states in the southern region reported a drop in inmates, while nine experienced growth exceeding 4 percent.
[Note: Pew's definition of the South is different than the Institute's, but that doesn't affect the numbers.]
* Race is a huge factor: Compared to the one-in-a-100 national average, one out of every 36 Hispanic males are incarcerated; for African-American men, that number jumps to one in 15.
* Florida tops the list: Pew offers Florida as a cautionary example in exploding incarceration rates, noting that the state's increase -- the highest in the country -- was not due to higher crime but "stemmed from a host of correctional policies and practices adopted by the state." For example:
One of the first came in 1995, when the legislature abolished "good time" credits and discretionary release by the parole board, and required that all prisoners-regardless of their crime, prior record, or risk to recidivate-serve 85 percent of their sentence. Next came a "zero tolerance" policy and other measures mandating that probation officers report every offender who violated any condition of supervision and increasing prison time for these "technical violations." As a result, the number of violators in Florida prisons has jumped by anestimated 12,000.
Pew further notes that, while Florida's crime rate has gone down, it's not due to locking more people up -- other states that didn't incarcerate more people, or even locked up less people (like New York) also saw declines.
* Incarceration is costly: As Pew's analysis finds:
Total state spending on corrections-including bonds and federal contributions-topped $49 billion last year, up from $12 billion in 1987. By 2011, continued prison growth is expected to cost states an additional $25 billion.
The full report is available here. (pdf)