The penal population of the United States has grown every year for the past thirty-six years. The rate of imprisonment in the U.S. is now four times its historic average and seven times higher than in Western Europe. According to the Pew Center:
For the first time in U.S. history, more than one of every 100 adults is in jail or prison.
According to this report, America ranks as the world’s No. 1 incarcerator. This makes the incarcerated the fastest growing “people group” in America. The U.S. Department of Justice indicated that in 1974 about 1.3% of adults in the U.S. had served time in prison; in 2001 it was up to an estimated 2.7%. The rate is growing. While these people come from all segments of the population:
The majority, of those imprisoned in 2001, was higher for black males (16.6%) and Hispanic males (7.7%) than for white males (2.6%) black females (1.7%) and Hispanic females (0.7%) than white females (0.3%).
This is not racism, but a fact of inner-city culture, which is rapidly becoming part of rural areas also. All of this leads to another even greater problem. That is recidivism.
According to the US Department of Justice, over 50% of those who are incarcerated will be rearrested within a short time for a felony or serious misdemeanor. For some types of offenders this rate is as high as 68%.
Those who are incarcerated for the first time are exposed to a new way of life. There view of life outside the law is reinforced. They also have plenty of time to think about and plan how they can live out that view in the future.
The size and cost of America’s prison system has skyrocketed during the last few decades. Recidivism rates remain high, and crime is still a major public concern. The statistics are discouraging. Prisons do not producing law-abiding citizens.
Crime is one of Wisconsin’s most pressing concerns. In the early and mid-1990’s, Wisconsin tightened its criminal sanctions and added more police. By 2002, Wisconsin ranked 11th in police per capita, 1st in arrests per capita and 24th in the number of prisoners relative to its population. From 1991-92 through 2002-03, budgeted spending for adult corrections rose 198.5%.
We need to find solutions to this crisis that change lives. Crime is not merely an offense against the state, and justice is more than punishment. Crime hurts people, and justice should restore.