- The art of the Con
The bottom line
Interestingly enough, for whatever the reason, the growth rate
for prisoners held in jail has dropped virtually in every six-month period since
1995. However, that doesnâ€™t mean it is going down, it is only going up a smaller
rate. One of the interesting observations one could make is the fact that during
this period, the United States had times of virtual full-employment and yet
the number continued to rise. It would seem that the biggest attraction to crime
is poverty and with jobs waiting to be taken, the indications are that some
people in this country would much rather steal than work.
Another interesting revelation is the fact that
private prisons are now accommodating more and more of the prison population.
Without the bureaucracy that accompanies federal and state programs it seems
as though these private penal institutions can offer a better than viable alternative
to government run institutions. As of the middle of 2001, the last statistics
generated by the Bureau of Justice Statistics show that 94,948 prisoners were
held in private jails. However, in real terms, the nationâ€™s combined federal,
state and local adult correction population reached a new high of almost 6.5
million men and women in 2000. That represents a growth of 126,400. When viewing
that statistic, keep in mind what a great year 2000 was for the economy.
When one in every thirty-two adults in this country is in jail
or on parole or probation. It would appear that more should be done to rehabilitate
this ever growing segment of the population. Once again, we must look within
the statistics to get the real story. Much of increase in prison population
comes from the fact that in the last decade, the average prison sentence went
from 39 months to 54 months, but even that doesnâ€™t tell the whole story. Moreover,
even more important is the fact that the proportion of the sentence to be served
by offenders entering Federal prison increased from 58% during 1986 to about
87% during 1997. If you apply this number to the current population, you make
the case that in reality the population of prisoners would be dropping if we
had the same sentencing guidelines that we had in the 1980s and probably before.
However, in fairness to the statistics, the above breaks down
On December 21, 2000, there were 3,839,532 men and
women on probation, 725,527 on parole, 1,312,354 in prison and 621,149 in local
jail. To put these numbers into full perspective, this represented an actual
growth for the year of two-percent. Or 126,400 people. Georgia, Texas and Idaho
were the percentage leaders in members of their communities serving time or
on probation. Or to put it another way, West Virginia, New Hampshire and North
Dakota were the most crime free. However, not all of the people incarcerated
were guilty of crimes in terms of bank robber, murder or forgery. Twenty-four
percent of the total people on probation had committed a drug related infraction and eighteen-percent had been convicted of driving while intoxicated.
These two numbers when added together put crime today into a better perspective.
Among other things, these criminal actions did not even exist as statistically
important before 1930.
However, that is not to say that the system isnâ€™t become more
overburdened than ever before, the only difference is that a different part
of the balloon is bulging. In 1996, passing of the Antiterrorism and Effective
Death Penalty Act has dramatically increased the number of habeas corpus editions
filed by prison inmates. However, many more are filed by state inmates that
those held in Federal incarceration. In the year 2,000, 58,257 prisoner petitions
were filed in U.S. district Courts - 80% by State prison inmates and 20% by
Federal inmates. This amazing differential shows the difference between the
two sets of laws. However, it shows in graphic detail the strain being placed
on the American Court and Legal systems.
There is a certain amount of injustice in the system as
husbands are convicted far more often than their wives on charges of killing
“In a sample of homicide cases in 75 of the nationâ€™s
most populous counties, state curt judges or juries during 1988 (the last time
these statistics were available) acquitted 6% of the husband defendants, compared
to 31% of the wife defendants. Jury trials ended in acquittal for 27% of wives,
but none of the husbands….In many instances in which wives were charged with
killing their husbands, the husband had assaulted the wife, and the wife then
killed in self-defense, that might explain why wives had a lower conviction
rate than did husbands.”
Twice as many of the husbands had been drinking when they
committed their crimes, as did the ladies. There is no particular statistical
difference between the races in terms of either frequency of attacks or conviction
rates showing that spousal abuse is endemic.
Parole seems to work reasonably well when used in
conjunction with a parole board system. In spite of this fact, at the end of
2000, 15 states had totally abolished their parole boardâ€™s authority in all
areas and 5 states had diminished it relative to certain offenses. Although
the Parole Board System is far from perfect, it would seem that from the figures
available, it is at least 50% better than the alternative. Mandatory parole,
or that which is legislated allows no latitude and it is a law rather than a
right. Mandatory paroles are growing faster than the prison population is expanding,
a frightening statistic. However, from an economic point of view, the mandatory
parole gets the average prisoner out of jail in 33 months while the parole
board releases him in 35 months. The older the person is when paroled, the less
likely he or she is to be making a return trip to the slammer. Drug offenders
represented over one-third of the total prison population receiving parole in
the year 2000.
When viewing our prison population in a different
way, fourteen percent of the people incarcerated in our prisons today have been
determined to be mentally ill and 12 percent were homeless at the time of their
arrest. Most probably you can telescope the two figures and come out with some
more relevant number but, keep in mind that the portion of this prison population
that is mentally ill, would normally have been deposited in a mental institution
had one been available. This too skews the statistics. Moreover, parole violations
accounted for a majority of prison admissions in a number of states, in descending
order, California, Utah, Montana and Louisiana were all substantially over 50%.
The best states, both under 10% were Florida and Alabama. Could it be that prisoners
were treated so badly in Florida and Alabama that they didnâ€™t want to go back.
For whatever it is worth, male military veterans incarcerated
in the nationâ€™s prisons and jails represent a prison population that is less
than half the rate of that of non-veterans. I really donâ€™t think that this
is statistically relevant though because as we know, the average person arrested
is relatively young and our veteran population is relative old. I donâ€™t see
any reason to make anymore of a case than that. However, interestingly enough,
the veterans when they did it, they did it big and were much more likely than
the population as a whole to commit a crime of violence and much less likely
to be involved in one that was drug related.