Warehouse B
Building Jails Not Universities
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America - The Land Of The Imprisoned

By James Donahue

A shocking new report states that as of the end of 2005, a record 7 million people, or one in every 32 American adults, were either behind bars, on probation or on parole via the vast federal, state and county jail and prison system operating within the United States.

Of these, the report states that 2.2 million were either in prison or jail, an increase of 2.7 percent over the previous year. More than 4.1 million people were on probation and 784,208 were on parole. Men far outnumber women in prisons and jails, but the female jail population is on the rise.

A story written last year by Jill Soffivah Elijah, a former criminal defense lawyer and professor of criminal defense advocacy, noted that "the United States incarcerates more people per capita than any other developed nation on earth."

Elijah wrote that the population of the United States makes up five percent of the world's population, but its imprisoned population is equal to more than 25 percent of the prisoners throughout the world.

In her story, Elijah charged that "every aspect of the criminal justice system (in the U.S.) is ripe for criticism and laden with hypocrisy."

That is because most of the prison population is comprised of black and Hispanic men. Nearly all American prisoners are classified among the poor and underprivileged.

Elijah wrote that Bureau of Justice Statistics show that an estimated 32 percent of black males will enter state or federal prisons during their lives, compared to 17 percent of Hispanic males and 5.9 percent of white males. "In other words, one third of black men can expect to be incarcerated during their life times if they live in the United States."

This writer also said something interesting. She wrote that "incarceration in the U.S. is a growing industry." She meant that the numbers of people going to jail are on the increase, but she was also correct in that prisons and jails also are a growing "industry" in the aspect of providing employment for a lot of people.

We are not just talking about police officers and court and jail workers. Billions of dollars are being spent each year in the construction industry as more and more jails and prisons are being built all across the nation.

One report noted that "the money and resources spent by governments and private interests on the criminal justice system is so large that it is having a profound impact on our economy. . . "by 1997 the Criminal Justice System employed more than two million people and cost taxpayers more than $70 billion a year."

Prisoner maintenance alone, only a few years ago, averaged around $7,041 a year per prisoner for adult jails, and $9,439 for adult prisons. Construction costs range from $25,000 to $50,000 per bed. These numbers were from statistics accumulated in 1977 and are obviously much higher today.

Undetected in the above numbers are the state lost tax revenues and welfare costs for inmate-related families and other government agencies built into the expanding criminal-justice budgets. To recap some of these costs, many counties are actually charging prisoners for time spent in jail and for visits to probation officers.

Sadly, the United States is spending more money for prisons and new prison construction than it now is spending for education. In 1995 state expenditures for prison construction grew by $926 million while spending for university construction fell by $954 million. That year more money was spent by states building prisons ($2.6 billion) than building universities ($2.5 billion).

At the root of this amazing growth in the number of people jailed in America is the failed war on drugs. In 2003, the number of prisoners sentenced for drug offenses made up the largest group of federal inmates (55 percent). Statistics show that over 80 percent of the increase in the federal prison population from 1985 to 1995 was due to drug convictions as the nation's drug enforcement laws got tougher.

-November 2006