President Obama’s State of the Union Address last night claimed “that the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together.” This claim was not completely accurate. The incarceration rate has declined very little as evidenced by the United States having twenty five percent of the world’s inmates and only five percent of the world’s population. Many of the prisons in the United states are excessively overcrowded.
For example, The Columbus Dispatch reported yesterday that Ohio’s state budget is being consumed by the state’s prison system. Ohio prisons are thirty one percent beyond their designed capacity. In 1974, Ohio had seven prisons and 8300 inmates. Today, Ohio has twenty seven prisons and almost 51,000 inmates. There are numerous factors resulting in these stunning statistics which include fewer paroled inmates, increased violations of paroled inmates, increased criminal penalties, and most importantly the lack of alternative sentencing programs in the local communities.
Ohio prisons chief Gary Mohr stated that packing nonviolent offenders into state prisons is illogical.Twenty five percent of the state’s inmates were never arrested or convicted for violent offenses. Another twenty five percent of the inmates were back in prison for parole violations ( many for failed drug tests).
Mohr stated, “Every piece of research shows that a community, evidenced based program is twice as effective as one done in prison…and is half the cost.”
In Alabama, this week, Gov. Robert Bentley that Alabama is faced with budget shortfalls and overcrowded prisons. Alabama’s state prisons are almost double the designed capacity of their prisons. Alabama’s prisons are well known for inmate abuse, violence, and poor living conditions. A Justice Department investigation revealed in January that conditions at Alabama’s women’s prison violated the United States Constitution.
At least seventeen states have excessively overcrowded prisons. Illinois and North Dakota prisons are at one hundred fifty percent capacity.
The growth of the incarceration rate in the United States may have slowed, but we still have 2.3 million inmates and the largest incarceration rate in the world. President Obama was only half right!
By : Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com