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"Despite Drop in Crime, an Increase in Inmates"

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"Despite Drop in Crime, an Increase in Inmates"

Old 11-07-04, 11:26 PM
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"Despite Drop in Crime, an Increase in Inmates"



Published: November 8, 2004

he number of inmates in state and federal prisons rose 2.1 percent last year, even as violent crime and property crime fell, according to a study by the Justice Department released yesterday.

The continuing increase in the prison population, despite a drop or leveling off in the crime rate in the past few years, is a result of laws passed in the 1990's that led to more prison sentences and longer terms, said Allen J. Beck, chief of corrections statistics for the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics and an author of the report.

At the end of 2003, there were 1,470,045 men and women in state and federal prisons in the United States, the report found. In addition, counting those inmates in city and county jails and incarcerated juvenile offenders, the total number of Americans behind bars was 2,212,475 on Dec. 31 last year, the report said.

The report estimated that 44 percent of state and federal prisoners in 2003 were black, compared with 35 percent who were white, 19 percent who were Hispanic and 2 percent who were of other races. The numbers have changed little in the last decade.

Statistically, the number of women in prison is growing fast, rising 3.6 percent in 2003. But at a total of 101,179, they are just 6.9 percent of the prison population.

Alfred Blumstein, a criminologist at Carnegie Mellon University, said one of the most striking findings in the report was that almost 10 percent of all American black men ages 25 to 29 were in prison.

Such a high proportion of young black men behind bars not only has a strong impact on black families, Professor Blumstein said, but "in many ways is self-defeating." The criminal justice system is built on deterrence, with being sent to prison supposedly a stigma, he said. "But it's tough to convey a sense of stigma when so many of your friends and neighbors are similarly stigmatized."

In seeking to explain the paradox of a falling crime rate but a rising prison population, Mr. Beck pointed out that F.B.I. statistics showed that from 1994 to 2003 there was a 16 percent drop in arrests for violent crime, including a 36 percent decrease in arrests for murder and a 25 percent decrease in arrests for robbery.

But the tough new sentencing laws led to a growth in inmates being sent to prison, from 522,000 in 1995 to 615,400 in 2002, the report said.

Similarly, the report found that the average time served by prison inmates rose from 23 months in 1995 to 30 months in 2001.

Among the new measures were mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which required inmates to serve a specified proportion of their time behind bars; truth-in-sentencing laws, which required an inmate to actually serve the time he was sentenced to; and a variety of three-strikes laws increasing the penalties for repeat offenders.

In the three states with the biggest prison systems, California, Texas and Florida, the number of newly admitted inmates grew last year, but the number of those released either fell or remained stable, Mr. Beck said.

Several states with small prison systems had particularly large increases in new inmates, led by North Dakota, up 11.4 percent, and Minnesota, up 10.3 percent.

New York had a 2.8 percent decrease in new inmates, reflecting the continued sharp fall in crime in New York City, Mr. Beck said.

Over all, Mr. Beck said, the prison population is aging. Traditionally the great majority of inmates are men in their 20's and early 30's, but middle-aged inmates, those 40 to 54, account for about half of the increase in the prison population since 1995, he said.

This is a result both of the aging of the general American population and of the longer sentences, Mr. Beck said.

But the number of elderly inmates is still small, despite longer sentences and more life sentences. Those inmates 65 and older were still only 1 percent of the prison population in 2003.
Though the article does explain, only the New York Times could write a headline that is that clueless.
Old 11-07-04, 11:30 PM
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I would imagine that drug laws are a major reason for this, as a very large percentage of people in prison are in for offenses related to our drug war. Drops in violent crime and robberies don't really account for the fact that many many many people are locked up for crimes that of a different nature.
Old 11-08-04, 12:03 AM
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Thanks bhk, I needed a good laugh before bed.


I don't doubt that what you stated plays a part, but it could also very well be that because, as the articles attempts to say without saying, there are more criminals in prison, there are less criminals on the street to commit crimes.

Also remember that the number of criminals incarcerated for minor drug related offenses solely is a small number. For every poor innocent college kid busted the third time for smoking weed, or every single mom busted for having just a tad over the limit, there are countless hardened and violent criminals who just happen to get sentenced on a drug offense.

More people in prison, less crime on the streets. I like it. Doesn't everybody?
Old 11-08-04, 08:27 AM
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NYT: "Despite Drop in Crime, an Increase in Inmates"

Fox: "Most Criminals Already in Jails, Crime Rates Plummet"
(well, I made that up, but its "essentially true")
Old 11-08-04, 08:39 AM
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I'd say The New York Times wrote the headline in such a way as to pique the curiosity of casual readers.
Old 11-08-04, 10:04 AM
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This isn't the first time that the NYT has used this headline for this kind of story. I recall another such headline from the past year or two.

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