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There are 2.2 million people in the nation’s prisons and jails—a 500% increase over the last 40 years. Changes in law and policy, not changes in crime rates, explain most of this increase. The results are overcrowding in prisons and fiscal burdens on states, despite increasing evidence that large-scale incarceration is not an effective means of achieving public safety.


International Rates of Incarceration per 100,000
0200400600U.S.RwandaRussiaBrazilAustraliaSpainChinaCanadaFranceAustriaGermanyDenmarkSwedenIndia

Country Incarceration rate (per 100,000)
U.S. 670
Rwanda 434
Russia 413
Brazil 325
Australia 167
Spain 126
China 118
Canada 114
France 102
Austria 94
Germany 78
Denmark 59
Sweden 57
India 33
Data source: International Centre for Prison Studies. Download chart

U.S. State and Federal Prison Population, 1925-2016
192519301936194219481954196019661972197819841990199620022008201120140500,0001,000,0001,500,000

Year Population
1925 91,669
1926 97,991
1928 116,390
1930 129,453
1932 137,997
1934 138,316
1936 145,038
1938 160,285
1940 173,706
1942 150,384
1944 132,456
1946 140,079
1948 155,977
1950 166,123
1952 168,233
1954 182,901
1956 189,565
1958 205,643
1960 212,953
1962 218,830
1964 214,336
1966 199,654
1968 187,914
1970 196,429
1972 196,092
1974 218,466
1976 262,833
1978 294,396
1980 315,974
1982 395,516
1984 443,398
1986 522,084
1988 603,732
1990 739,980
1992 846,277
1994 1,016,691
1996 1,137,722
1998 1,245,402
2000 1,331,278
2002 1,380,516
2004 1,496,629
2006 1,570,861
2008 1,610,446
2009 1,613,740
2010 1,605,127
2011 1,598,780
2012 1,571,013
2013 1,516,879
2014 1,508,636
2015 1,476,847
2016 1,458,173
Data source: Bureau of Justice Statistics. Download chart

How did this happen?

We started sending more people to prison.

A series of law enforcement and sentencing policy changes of the “tough on crime” era resulted in dramatic growth in incarceration. Since the official beginning of the War on Drugs in 1982, the number of people incarcerated for drug offenses in the U.S. skyrocketed from 40,900 in 1980 to 450,345 in 2016. Today, there are more people behind bars for a drug offense than the number of people who were in prison or jail for any crime in 1980. The number of people sentenced to prison for property and violent crimes has also increased even during periods when crime rates have declined.

People in Prisons & Jails for Drug Offenses, 1980 & 2016
19802016State PrisonsFederal PrisonsJails060,000120,000180,000

Location 1980 2016
State Prisons 19,000 197,200
Federal Prisons 4,700 81,900
Jails 17,200 171,245
Data source: Bureau of Justice Statistics; The Sentencing Project. Download chart

We started sending people to prison for much longer terms.

Number of People Serving Life Sentences, 1984-2016
1984199220032005200820122016050,000100,000150,000

Year Number of People Serving Life Sentences
1984 34,000
1992 69,845
2003 127,677
2005 132,000
2008 142,727
2012 157,966
2016 161,957
Data source: The Sentencing Project. Download chart
Harsh sentencing laws like mandatory minimums, combined with cutbacks in parole release, keep people in prison for longer periods of time. The National Research Council reported that half of the 222% growth in the state prison population between 1980 and 2010 was due to an increase of time served in prison for all offenses. There has also been a historic rise in the use of life sentences: one in nine people in prison is now serving a life sentence, nearly a third of whom are sentenced to life without parole.

Mass incarceration has not touched all communities equally

The racial impact of mass incarceration

Sentencing policies, implicit racial bias, and socioeconomic inequity contribute to racial disparities at every level of the criminal justice system. Today, people of color make up 37% of the U.S. population but 67% of the prison population. Overall, African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Hispanic men are more than twice as likely to be incarcerated as non-Hispanic white men.

Lifetime Likelihood of Imprisonment for U.S. Residents Born in 2001

lifetime likelihood

This estimate is based on data from 2001. Data source: Bureau of Justice Statistics. Download infographic

Mass incarceration and public safety

Incarceration has some impact on crime, but the impact is one of diminishing returns.

Crime rates have declined substantially since the early 1990s, but studies suggest that rising imprisonment has not played a major role in this trend. The National Research Council concluded that while prison growth was a factor in reducing crime, “the magnitude of the crime reduction remains highly uncertain and the evidence suggests it was unlikely to have been large.” Several factors explain why this impact was relatively modest.

First, incarceration is particularly ineffective at reducing certain kinds of crimes: in particular, youth crimes, many of which are committed in groups, and drug crimes. When people get locked up for these offenses, they are easily replaced on the streets by others seeking an income or struggling with addiction.

Second, people tend to “age out” of crime. Research shows that crime starts to peak in the mid- to late- teenage years and begins to decline when individuals are in their mid-20s. After that, crime drops sharply as adults reach their 30s and 40s. The National Research Council study concludes:

“Because recidivism rates decline markedly with age, lengthy prison sentences, unless they specifically target very high-rate or extremely dangerous offenders, are an inefficient approach to preventing crime by incapacitation.”

As a result, the excessive sentencing practices in the U.S. are largely counterproductive and extremely costly.

State Expenditures on Corrections in Billions, 1985-2016
1985199019952000200520102016015304560

Year State Expenditures on Corrections
1985 $6.7 Billion
1990 $16.9 Billion
1995 $26.1 Billion
2000 $36.4 Billion
2005 $42.3 Billion
2010 $51.4 Billion
2016 $57.7 Billion
Data source: National Association of State Budget Officers. Download chart

Significant reforms in recent years

After nearly 40 years of continued growth, the U.S. prison population has stabilized in recent years.

This is partially a result of declining crime rates, but has largely been achieved through pragmatic changes in policy and practice. For more than a decade, the political climate of criminal justice reform has been evolving toward evidence-based, commonsense approaches to public safety. This can be seen in a variety of legislative, judicial, and policy changes that have successfully decreased incarceration without adverse impacts on public safety.

At the state level:

  • California voters passed ballot measure Proposition 47 in 2014, which reclassified certain low-level property and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, and will reinvest some of the fiscal savings into prevention programs
  • New York policymakers reformed the Rockefeller drug laws in 2009, which imposed harsh mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenses

At the federal level:

  • In 2014, the United States Sentencing Commission unanimously voted to reduce excessive sentences for up to 46,000 people currently serving time for federal drug offenses
  • Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, which reduced the disparity in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine offenses
    As promising as these changes may be, we are a long way from solving our national problem of mass incarceration—and the way forward is clear.

Where do we need to go from here?

Just as a bicycle works best when it uses different gears based on the terrain, we need a justice system that has different responses for different situations—shifting gears to treatment, prevention, and long-term public safety solutions as appropriate. By taking a practical approach to criminal justice reform, we can decrease crime, enhance public safety, and make more responsible use of our resources.

In particular, we need to start by:

  • Eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and cutting back on excessively lengthy sentences; for example, by imposing a 20-year maximum on prison terms.
  • Shifting resources to community-based prevention and treatment for substance abuse.
  • Investing in interventions to that promote strong youth development and respond to delinquency in age-appropriate and evidence-based ways.
  • Examining and addressing the policies and practices, conscious or not, that contribute to racial inequity at every stage of the justice system.
  • Removing barriers that make it harder for individuals with criminal records to turn their lives around.

Hey guys,

Got your letter today.  Read it over.  I will write to Pastor Jeff sometime.  I still want to do this (crotcheting hats for the homeless, edit. note). I have so much stuff going on right noe that I am not even really crotcheting.

Let the people out there know that I am down for anything.  I have always wanted to try double penetration.  I love anal orgasms as well as vaginal orgasms.  I could only imagine what they could be like together.  I also love boobgasms, if there is such a thing, but when I play with my pierced nipple I orgasm.  I would prefer to have my boobgasms when doing it myself, but when someone else is doing it for me.  You can bet I love havinng my pussy licked.  I have a very ticklish clit, though.  I had it pierced once and it came out.  So I got it again.  So really ticklish.

Just figured I would tell the people a bit about me.

On the type of pictures I want of guys I want one either without a shirt or with a, I guess they are called wife beaters.  They wear them under their t-shirts or buttom ups.  I don’t know if you guys know what I’m talking about.  I don’t know if anyone out there has chest hair.  I know my ex-husband only had like 10 hairs so yeah.  A pic of someone without a shirt on first would be good even if they don’t have a lot of chest hair.  Want to see what their torso looks like.

The type of letters that I want are fantasy letters.  I don’t care whatever your sexual fantasy is, I want to know. So be honest people.  Nothing is off limits.  Even if you wanted to like tie me to a tree and hide me from the world and keep me as your precious.

I will tell anyone after they tell me.  I will also send them my sexual bucket list.

I am heading to bed.  Good night, everyone.

Peace,

Arline

Hey people,

I am glad that you guys wrote to me again.  Makes me feel not forgotten once again.  I wrote to Fuzzy Bear but I can’t call him: no phone time.  A money order takes 14 days to clear.  Money put online takes three business days.

It’s good that everyone is doing okay, that Rage is writing again. It’s good to write at least an hour a day, and I know what he means about almost hating writing.  I also know about having a psychological burning within to get ideas on paper.  I write long hand.  I like to type because my hands can keep up with my thoughts.

I actually had some kind of I-don’t-know-what on Friday morning.  I went to see medical Thursday night and the guy that has been there both times I have had my seizures asked me if I felt like I was going to have one.  I said I don’t know.  I don’t know how to tell.  He said that they want to be ready because I get hit with one I get hit hard.  He wouldn’t let me take a shower that night, told me I should go to bed and even had me put my mattress on the floor.

I told them not going to do anything dumb, but I wish I would just go to bed and not wake up anymore cause I just don’t want to deal with my head anymore.

I know, I get it, I just get so lonely and feel so forgotten all the time, you know, my family don’t really have any time to write or any thing like that.  I get it – people’s lives don’t stop because I’m in prison.

Well, I am gonna head to bed.  Hope to hear from you guys again soon.

Peace,

Arline

Hey people.

Holy fuck. Done thought you died!  I hear that, about “Horror shows.”  Bout time you guys wrote to me.  Beginning to think you forgot all of the conversations we’ve all had.  I never heard from anyone.

Everything is going okay here, I mean, as good as it can be, right?  Nope.  Not that I know about the strike situation, but I could be wrong there.

I would still like to crochet hats for the homeless.

I mean, I am as well as I can be.  I felt like I was forgotten by everyone.  I wrote to Fuzzybear and Sarah a while ago.  I was waiting for a response from them.  I assumed that they didn’t want to write me anymore, either.  I will send them a line.  I would like to talk to all of you guys over the phone, but lack of funds there.  Hopefully whenever I get some money I can set up a time to call and talk with you guys.  It’s cool bout being a long time.

Give me a shout back.

Peace,

Arline

 

 

Hey,

The first thing that comes to mind is “I want to get High” by Cypress Hill.  That is where I am at as of now with my soundtrack of my life.  Then I sit and think about it and the more I concentrate on my soundtrack the more I begin to realize that there is so much more to my life soundtrack.

I can’t remember the names of the group that sings these songs but I can remember that I used to listen to these songs on the front seat of my Bampi’s truck coming back from blueberry raking.  One of the songs is “White Lightning.”  I used to sing this song every time it would play on the old 8-track.  I remember that we used to sing the song as

“Teaming, teaming, alligator soup, looking for the place where he made his brew, they were looking just a looking but my pappy kept a cooking – phew – white lightning.”

Apparently that is not the right lyrics to that song as I found out when I got older.  I asked my Bampi why he didn’t tell me that I was singing it wrong.  He simply told me that he was just happy that I was singing and that he thought that I was cute singing.  This made me feel loved.

Arline.

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Hi everyone.

I love the sound of doves cooing, and their… I guess you would say their growling noises at each other.  Specially when they are fighting over a cheese puff.  See, my doves loved cheese.  I also love the sound of a loon’s cry and the crow’s caw, the owl’s “who” and the hummingbird’s flutter of their tiny wings as they collect nectar from the flowers.  The talking of my friend’s African Grey.  She whistles, counts and screams at you when you come into the house, unless you give her a Ritz.

I love the sound of a tattoo machine, cuz it means that when that tat is all done and finished there will be a beautiful design.  I love the sound of the bubbler fish tank.  In fact, that is what I used to listen to, to fall asleep.  Now, I listen to my fan.  Te sound of water running down a waterfall.  The ocean crashing into shore as I run across the sand with my son.  The thunder as it rumbles the Earth, and the rain down pouring on the ground.  Each has a different sound whether it is concrete, grass, tar or dirt; I love the sound of it all.

Lastly, I love the sound of All that Remains’ “the waiting one.”  Cross fades: “Cold.  Avenged Sevenfold: “Nightmare.”  Any and all music by Trapt, Nirvana, Cradle of Filth, Five Finger Death Punch, Chimera, Type O’ Negative, System of the Down.  Most music in general, especially music in musicals like “Repo, the genetic Opera,” and “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

Finally, I love the sound and the laughter of my son.

Arline “Mourning Dove” Lawless

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Political Prisoners

Welcome to the blog from inmates of Maine's jails and prisons.

In collaboration with the Holistic Recovery Project, the Political Prisoners Blog provides a prisoner's view into what's happening at Maine's correctional facilities.

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