Prison Facts

The “war on drugs” and federal sentence guidelines have succeeded to only one end: the quadrupling of our jail population. Between 1980 and 2000, the American prison system grew from 500,000 to 2,000,000. State and local spending on corrections grew by 104%, while state and local spending on higher education dropped by 21%. The construction cost of each new cell is approximately $100,000. (That’s per cell, not per prison!) The average cost to in an adult inmate in a Department of Corrections’ institution is approximately $24,500 per year. The average cost to incarcerate a juvenile offender in a Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration is approximately $47,400 per year.

•  There are currently more black men serving prison sentences than are enrolled in colleges.
•  Over 80% of inmates lose 100% contact with the outside world within two years of their incarceration.
•  The US government predicts 1 out of every 11 American men will be incarcerated at some point in his lifetime- one in four if he is black.
•  In 29 years, 1973-2002, 103 death row inmates were found innocent and set free.
•  The prison population will continue to grow. This growth is a direct result of sentencing guidelines. The financial burden of this will continue to be placed on taxpayers. Private companies that regard the roughly $35 billion spend each year on corrections not as a burden on American taxpayers, but as a lucrative market.
•  Politicians, both liberal and conservative, use the fear of crime to gain votes in a time when violent crime has actually fallen.
•  Although the US comprises less than 5% of the world’s population, it incarcerates over 25% of the world’s prisoners. Over 70% of released inmates return to prison with 5 years of their release.
•  The “Three Strikes Laws” are not working, and they’re costing the taxpayers plenty- from $700,000 to $1,000,000 to incarcerate for life. Some of those “third strike crimes include stealing $20, stealing a bicycle, and running form a police officer. Less than 30% were reported as violent crimes.

From a New York Times article by Anthony Lewis, 12/21/99:

•  One-fourth of the world’s 8 million prisoners are incarcerated in U.S. prisons. That’s 2 million prisoners in the United States!
•  Two-thirds of the prisoners are there for non-violent offenses. (“Chances are good that by the time they are released after sentences that are among the longest anywhere they will be thoroughly brutalized,” wrote Lewis.)
•  Operating costs for U.S. prisons in the year 2000 – approximately $40 billion!
•  One-fourth of U.S. prisoners are drug violators with non-violent crimes who will NOT receive effective treatment in our prisons.

Going Up The River: Travels in a Prison Nation; Joseph T. Hallinan; Random House, 2001

•  No nation in the world incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than the U.S. In the last 20 years, our prison population has more than quadrupled.
•  The U.S. government predicts one in every eleven men will be imprisoned during his lifetime – one in every four for black men.
•  The prison industry generates more than $30 billion a year.
•  In 1997, on phone call profits alone, the state of New York earned $21.2 million, California made $17.6 million, and Florida made $13.8 million. (Prisoners must call their families collect. The rates are the highest in the nation, passed on to the poor families who are unlikely to refuse a collect call from an incarcerated family member. These legal kickbacks from AT&T, MCI Worldcom, etc. to the prisons are just one small sampling of the big profits being made off of U.S. prisoners. Prisons are big business in this country.)
•  Over 80% of inmates lose 100% contact with the outside world within two years of their incarceration.

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