Your odds are 1 in 100!

Those are some pretty good odds if you are asking me if I want to buy a lottery ticket.  Instead, they represent the odds that any given American is in prison or jail as I type.  The NYTimes reported yesterday that 1 out of every 100 Americans is behind bars.  Crikey.

Then, NoObamakoolaid emailed me this:

I ran across an article this morning in my hometown newspaper that was essentially praising the fact that state funding had finally been approved for new construction on prisons around my city in Colorado.  The article was written in a positive vein because 170 new jobs are expected.  It would not surprise me to see a follow-up article in a couple of months that features a group of city and county leaders jovially shoveling out the first mounds of earth for these new prison beds.  It appalling how short-sided some can be.  Most of the economic literature on this subject is quite clear.  Prisons are obviously costing many billions of dollars that would be better spent elsewhere.  But the direct cost pales in comparison to the total cost when you consider the loss of production of these incarcerated men and women.  
Are we getting something for this besides an international black eye and a big bill?  Anyone feel safer (they talk about this in the Times article — the difficulty of measuring the relationship between incarceration and crime reduction.  I don’t think there is much of one.
And, if you think that is troubling, try reading Devah Pager’s new book, Marked.  It is about how difficult it is to get hired once you are out of prison.  I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

6 Responses to Your odds are 1 in 100!

  1. The report is here:

    Being a devil’s advocate here for a second — doesn’t the prison industry employ a large number of workers and work to prop-up parts of the economy that are currently lagging (construction, manufacturing, etc.)? I know it’s the taxpayers who are funding this stimulus, but — as this report makes clear — the prison industry has been and continues to be one of the most reliable growth sectors of the American economy.

  2. vancleve says:

    The prison system is a viable economy that sustains many people. I can’t help but think that if we established solid, social service industries for the drug addicted, mentally ill and ex-offenders who have served their time, we could employ these folks in other “service” industries. Incarceration has replaced many social services that could be a thriving and positive alternatives for jobs.

    One clarification…my odds are not 1 in 100….since I am in Latina, my odds are about 1 in 36. I should get back to my paper now, and stay out of trouble.

  3. nobamakoolaid says:

    The waste in both financial and human is quite obvious. But what can we do to reverse this situation? First, consider that almost all of these inmates are incarcerated at the state or local level. That’s at least 50 separate systems working independently to produce this massive machine. We need one governor with large enough cojones to step up and enact real reform. Maybe by showing that policies aimed at rehabilitation would work given a chance, others states would follow. People would have to be released and sentencing guidelines changed. New bureaucracies (to facilitate rehab and vocational programs) would have to be formed. Two problems; first its political suicide, so that brave governor needs to be willing to sacrifice her political career for the cause. And, just as things started moving along in the direction we all want, some person who would otherwise be in jail would commit some heinous crime; enter a swarming media and the Joe Arpaios of the world. At that point, the pressure might be so great that the backlash is greater than the actual reforms. The solution seems so unlikely that I might just try to do something about it.

  4. lbsmom says:

    California has a 14.5 billion dollar deficit for its 2008-09 budget. Of that, Gov. Schwarzenegger’s recommending a 9.6% reduction in K-12 education, 11% cut to higher education, & surprise–a much smaller cut to corrections & rehabilitation–only 4%. Prison costs have risen 79% in the past 5 yrs. Currently, there are about 172,000 inmates in our state facilities alone.

    If you want a full time volunteer job, come to California & solicit signatures outside grocery stores, door to door, etc, for almost anything of interest to you. When you get 433,971 signatures on your petition, it can go on the ballot. The most interesting one right now is NORA, the non-violent rehabilitation act which would make marijuana possession an infraction instead of a misdemeanor. Read more about it & California’s prisons at this link:

  5. laurabethnielsen says:

    I think we had “stimulating” those sectors with better outcomes during the WPA — let’s build schools and community centers and roads.

  6. […] in 100 are currently in prison (for discussion, see scatterplot, grad mommy, general blog of crime, controlling authority, and, I’m sure, others. uggen also points out *correctly* that the 1 in 100 figure is an […]

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