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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.
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Please show your support! Write to:

RAYMOND MUNSON
MDOC#83366

17 MALLISON FALLS RD
WINDHAM, ME 04062

Hey bloggers and readers! This is Sundog giving you the ins and outs of MCC. When I get to Charleston, I will be giving you the rundown there as well. So, let’s get to it!

The “cops” or as we like to think of them “Rent-a-Cops,” are really taking their jobs way too serious. I want everyone to know Hussey’s Name.  He is a c/o that after lunch and dinner throws away about 40 oranges. Now it bothers me because 1) He’s throwing away perfectly good fruit. It’s usually oranges and apples. 2) He is the only shitbag c/o that does this. So the inmates that don’t leave commissary can’t have snacks. I think it’s bullshit. 3) I also think “If” the inmates themselves aren’t eating them in the first place then maybe they should think about some fruit that isn’t costing taxpayers money to be thrown away. Do some “research,” people. And to the shitbag inmates that ruin that privilege, don’t deserve them anyways. The ones making Honch, mmmm, rotted fruit. Yum.

I gotta say He is pretty much the only shitbag I’ve come across here. So far. Everyone else is chill and knows how to commisserate with the inmates. C/O Lincoln. Lincoln is the cutest c/o I’ve seen in a long time. She is tough when she needs to be, but perfect for A-POD. She holds her own. So far, so good. God knows if one of the crazy’s wanted to, they could take her out in a minute. Thank god that doesn’t happen. She’s a cool shit. I could totally see myself having a cold draft Blue Moon beer with her. Although, that will never happen.

Now about our lovely caseworkers:

Sue is doing A-L and Gretchen (illegible, name may be inaccurate) is doing M-Z. Gretchen has her shit together. She has been here longer. Sue knows what she’s doing but she her sweet ass time. She almost seems as though it’s a bother to her. Her own job. She’s been here for 4 years. Time’s cheap Sue, please go retire. As for Gretchen, cute as a button, knows her shit and is pleasant to talk with. But inmates beware: Every single Jail and Prison is completely full. People are waiting 8 to 12 weeks to leave for  minimum. No Joke. I hope I don’t have to wait that long. Fingers crossed. I’ll be glad when I do leave, I’ll know some guys who will be in the same spot as me.

They are so full here that they are actually putting people in SEG because there’s no room anywhere else. I think that’s disgusting. SEG IS A DUNGEON!!!

Now, let’s talk about why we are so full. The reason I’m in here. Driving violations. Now, I’ve met some guys in here who have robbed and burglarized homes who get less time than me. I was driving (SOBER) one mile down the road dropping off Christmas presents to an  elderly lady. I’m here for 18 months. That’s fuckin BULLSHIT. There are alot of people in here who have done way worse than me and have  less time. IT SUCKS! I’m sorry about what happened to Tina Turcotte but it’s way-overcrowded because of driving violations. The state loves that money. It’s sickening. To her parents, way to go, assholes: I understand why. I just think there’s gotta be a happy medium  about it. I am “NOT” a criminal. I just get caught driving. SOBER. Doing incredible things for people! And I get the SHIT end of the stick. I do take it like a man. 

SHOUTOUTS: I have made a couple of good friends so far. I’m happy about that. One offered me a good paying job when I leave. The other offered friendship. I like them both. Thanks for having my back guys.

TO THE MAN OF MY DREAMS: I can’t wait to be free and together. (Wherever you are.)

Take care for now.

Write me!

Raymond Munson MDOC# 83366
17 Madison Falls Rd, Windham, ME

I’ll write back!

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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.

Only your vigilance on the outside can guarrentee that justice goes on on the inside.

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