BULL STREET - 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 doesn’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 nation’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 doesn’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.[29] 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 as follows,

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[30] 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 isn’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 their spouses.

“In a sample of homicide cases in 75 of the nation’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.”[31] 

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 board’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 didn’t want to go back.

For whatever it is worth, male military veterans incarcerated in the nation’s prisons and jails represent a prison population that is less than half the rate of that of non-veterans.  I really don’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 don’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.



©2005 Chapman, Spira & Carson, LLC
111 Broadway. New York, NY. 10006 Tel: 212.425.6100 - Fax: 212.425.6229

Terms of Use  |  Privacy Policy  |  Email