Has U.S. Criminal justice reform made communities safer?
In September 2013, the number of people in jail in the United States of America was the highest in the world. A total of 716 per 100,000 of the national population. While the US has only about 5 percent of the world population, it holds around 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. This number had decreased slightly by 2019, lowering to 655 people incarcerated per 100,000 but still, top of the jailhouse heap. Interestingly enough, both the USA and two of its territories are in the top ten.
So what is it about the American government and the jailing of its citizens?
The USA’s two neighbors are not anywhere near the top ten. Canada has a rate of 139 per 100,000 population according to Statistics Canada. In 2015–2016 there were a total of 40,147 adult offenders incarcerated in Canadian federal and provincial prisons on an average day.
The prison population rate in Mexico is 163 per 100,000 of the population on an estimated national population of 124.64 million at end of May 2018 according to the Consejo Nacional de Poblacion figures.
Why does the USA lead all countries when it comes to incarcerating its citizens? Though major crimes continue to drop across the country, the number of jailed US citizens is much higher than they were 30, 40, 60 years ago.
What is behind these very disturbing numbers?
Statistically speaking, the numbers are strange. The US is only twenty-second in the world in crime rate but first in the incarceration rate. In spite of many claims to the contrary, racism seems to factor into the numbers when the racial and ethnic makeup of U.S. prisons is viewed close up. The numbers are very different from the demographics of the country taken as a whole. In 2017, blacks made up 12% of the U.S. adult population but comprised 33% of the sentenced prison population. Whites accounted for 64% of adults but 30% of prisoners. And while Hispanics represented 16% of the adult population, they accounted for 23% of inmates.
Another way of considering racial and ethnic differences in the nation’s prison population is by looking at the imprisonment rate. Using the number of prisoners per 100,000 people as of 2017, there were 1,549 black prisoners for every 100,000 black adults - nearly six times the imprisonment rate for whites (272 per 100,000) and nearly double the rate for Hispanics (823 per 100,000).
Averaged over the nation’s state prisons, African-Americans are imprisoned at a rate five times greater than whites, and in some US states, they’re 10 times more likely to end up behind bars. Black Americans make up roughly 40 percent of the total prison population. Ongoing racism within many police forces and law courts are currently under heavy media and social scrutiny as some of the most recent shootings of black suspects by white police officers have gone viral on social media. The most notable at this time of writing is George Floyd.
In a new report, the US Prison Policy Initiative found that mass incarceration costs both state and federal governments and American taxpayers $100 million more each year than previously thought. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the annual cost of running the jail system in the United States is $182 billion. The American prisons hold more than 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 942 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, and 79 Indian Country jails. Then there are military prisons, immigration detention facilities, and civil commitment centers. This works out to around $36,000 per year per prisoner. Is this the price of justice in the USA?
According to a recent US justice department report: “Approximately a dozen inmates die behind bars each day or roughly 4,400 per year. In both state and federal prisons, most deaths are health-related - the leading illnesses being cancer or heart disease. In local prisons, the top cause is suicide making up a third of all deaths and usually occurring within the first month of incarceration. Tragically, more than 70 percent of those suicides eventuate before conviction.”
The irony of all these numbers? They are mostly sourced from the justice system. One definition of the word justice is: “a concern for the law, peace, and genuine respect for people.“
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Post Image Credit: Image: k.u. Unsplash