The US prison population has risen eight-fold since 1970, with little impact on crime but at great cost to the taxpayer, researchers say.
There are more than 1.5 million people in US state and federal jails, a report by a Washington-based criminal justice research group, the JFA Institute says.
Inmate numbers are projected to rise by 192,000 in five years, costing $27.5bn (£13.44bn) to build and run jails.
The JFA recommends reducing the number and length of sentences.
The Unlocking America report, which was published on Monday, also advocated changing terms of parole and finding alternatives to prison as part of a major overhaul of the US justice system.
“There is no evidence that keeping people in prison longer makes us any safer,” said JFA president James Austin.
Here are the crime statistics. What they say is literally true but intellectually stupid.
The violent crime rate started rising in the mid-1960′s, the same time at which — in must certainly be an amazing coincidence — the welfare state began and prison began to wane. By 1980, the crime rate was up 266%, from the 160 per 100,000 to almost 600. It dropped after Reagan took office to the low 500′s. Then, bouyed by the crack explosion, it rose to the 750′s, 380% above the level of the 1960′s. I was in a rural college at the time, so I didn’t appreciate how dangerous things had gotten.
And then? Clinton became President and was the first Democrat in years to be tough on crime, supporting tough sentences and more cops. Gun control laws were loosened. Welfare reform hit in 1996, which I’m sure was just another strange coincidence. And by 2006, the violent crime rate had plunged by 1/3 down below 500. That’s not a coincidence. And every longitudinal study has confirmed that putting people in jail drops the violent crime rate.
(A lot of people are noting smugly that our murder rate is down to 1966 levels. This means nothing — it’s because our emergency and trauma care have improve drastically).
Interestingly, the trend have leveled off a bit under Bush and even risen slightly the last two years. Between 1992 and 2000, the violent crime rate dropped from 757.5 per 100,000 to 506.5. Since then, it has only dropped another 30 points. I’m not sure if you can blame this on Bush since the first steps of progress are always the easiest. But he certainly hasn’t made things noticeably better.
I do agree with these idiots on one thing. Throwing people in prison for stupid things like simple possession, throwing coffee at a car or downloading videos is ridiculous and counter-productive. Prison should be reserved for the violent. Putting non-violent people in prison only ruins lives and creates more criminals.
When our crime rate gets back down to 1960 levels (which would be 1/3 of where they are now), we can start talking about jailing people for playing online poker.