Prison Is Getting Us Nowhere Essay

1651 words - 7 pages

Corrections was one of the fastest growing items in state budgets during the 1990's. It cost nearly $40 billion to imprison approximately two million state and local inmates in 2000, up from $5 billion in combined prison and jail expenditures in 1978. Twenty-four billion of that was spent on the incarceration of nonviolent offenders. The 1990's were witness to the largest prison population increase in U.S. history, prison populations have stretched state budgets extremely thin with our countries current economic disposition.The massive growth in state prisoners over the past two decades continues to have a significant impact on state and local government expenditures. On average, corrections consumed 7 percent of state budgets in 2000. While state government officials may have felt they could afford prison population increases during the boom years of the 1990's, state budgets are now groaning under the weight of the recent recession compounded by the revenue loss associated with the September 11 terrorist attacks.Despite significant corrections growth, the connection between prison population increases and crime reduction remains elusive. Some states around the country have already responded to the fiscal crisis with prison closures or downsizing. Confident that closing prisons will not pose any great risk to public safety, and struggling to fill the holes in their budget, some Governors in states have decided to close prisons. In the face of severe state budget shortfalls, there must be a plausible solution to help cutting costs without risking public safety.The expansion of America's prisons has been largely driven by the incarceration of nonviolent offenders. The percentage of violent offenders held in state prisons has actually declined from 57 percent in 1978 to 48 percent in 1999. However, the prison and jail population has tripled over that period, from roughly 500,000 in 1978, to two million today. From 1980 to 1997, the number of violent offenders committed to state prison nearly doubled (up 82 percent), the number of nonviolent offenders tripled (up 207 percent) while the number of drug offenders increased 11- fold (up 1040 percent). Nonviolent offenders accounted for 77 percent of the growth in intake to America's state and federal prisons between 1978 and 1996. According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice, 51 percent of state prison inmates, 74 percent of jail inmates, and 87 percent of federal inmates were imprisoned for offenses that involved neither harm, nor the threat of harm, to a victim. It is estimated that, by 2005, there will be about 472,000 nonviolent jail inmates, 629,100 nonviolent state prison inmates, and 138,000 nonviolent federal prisoners locked up in America, for a total of 1,240,000 nonviolent prisoners.This is not meant to imply that there are no serious or chronic offenders occupying state prison beds. However, this data confirms what many correctional professionals and members of the public believe,...

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