1 in 100 U.S. Adults Behind Bars, New Study Says

For the first time in the nation’s history, more than one in 100 American adults is behind bars, according to a new report.

Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million. Another 723,000 people are in local jails. The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars.

Incarceration rates are even higher for some groups. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, based on Justice Department figures for 2006. One in 15 black adults is, too, as is one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34.

The report, from the Pew Center on the States, also found that only one in 355 white women between the ages of 35 and 39 are behind bars but that one in 100 black women are.

The report’s methodology differed from that used by the Justice Department, which calculates the incarceration rate by using the total population rather than the adult population as the denominator. Using the department’s methodology, about one in 130 Americans is behind bars.

Either way, said Susan Urahn, the center’s managing director, “we aren’t really getting the return in public safety from this level of incarceration.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch

20 comments on “1 in 100 U.S. Adults Behind Bars, New Study Says

  1. Barrdu says:

    I am convinced that the War on Drugs is lost. Secure the boarders, decriminalize drugs (that’s different than legalizing them), and redirect the vast resources spent meaninglessly on the drug war (DEA; FBI; Justice Department lawyers; Federal Judges; Federal probation/pretrial services officers, court clerks, jailers, jail facilities, etc, etc…) effort to meaningful educational and treatment efforts and we’ll decrease our jail population by a huge number.

  2. Barrdu says:

    (….oh, yeah– Federal Public Defender lawyers and offices, CJA Panel attorneys (including, myself), local Task force officers including sheriff deputies and local police,…) We here about the cost of the war on Iraq. We’d be totally amazed at the anual costs of the failed war on drugs. I’ve been practicing criminal law for 28 years and the tide of drug prosecutions continues unabated.

  3. New Reformation Advocate says:

    These grim statistics show the bitter fruit of the breakdown of families in this country in recent decades. And it also indicates how great an opportunity exists, for churches or individual Christians with the eyes to see the wide open door for significant ministry here. I’ve been involved in Kairos (the ecumenical prison ministry that is very Cursillo like) for several years now, and have found it one of the most satisfying ministries I have. Many men in state prisons are DESPERATELY lonely and have never experienced the love of Christ in any real way. It’s literally life-transforming for many. And Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship is always in need of more support, both financially and especially in terms of volunteers who give their time and themselves to reach those behind bars.

    But stop and consider what a bleak and devastating reality is disclosed by the appalling fact that one out of every nine black males between 20 and 34 is incarcerated. Just imagine what that means in terms of its profound effects on the African-American community when an astonishing 11% of its young men of marriageable age and in the prime of life are locked up. The immensity of the problem may seem overwhelming, but progress can be made, if more of us step up to the plate and get involved for Christ’s sake.

    David Handy+
    Veteran KAIROS team member at Nottoway Correctional Center, a maximum security prison in central Virginia, where there is now a strong Christian community among the inmates.

  4. Irenaeus says:

    William J. Stuntz, a professor at Harvard Law School and a deeply committed Christian, concludes that the U.S. imprisonment rate is now so high as to have become counterproductive.

    (Commenters inclined to loose ad hominem attacks on Stuntz might note that he is active in the Presbyterian Church in America and, for what it’s worth, is a Republican. He is also one of the more saintly legal scholars I’ve ever met.)


  5. physician without health says:

    David #4, what a fantastic message, right on the money.

  6. Philip Snyder says:

    I want to second Father Handy. I’ve been involved in Kairos for over 12 years now. If you want to see lives changed by Jesus Christ then join a Kairos team!

    What is causing this breakdown in society? I believe that we, as a society, have lost our way. We’re now reaping the whirlwind of what we sowed in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. We’re seeing the results of “Question Authority” and “Self-Esteem uber alles” and “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” and “Do your own thing.” We’re seeing what happens when we don’t have any societial standards of behavior and when men are not involved in the lives of their children. We’re seeing the results of the “Me” generation being in charge and having kids of their own. Over 95% of the men I visit either didn’t have a dad growing up or had multiple “dads.”

    If you can’t serve on a Kairos weekend, please pray for those of us who do! You can also financially support the weekend at [url=http://www.kairosprisonministry.org/templates/System/details.asp?id=23761&PID=160077&Style;=] this location[/url].

    Phil Snyder

  7. bob carlton says:

    What a cynical comment. The justice system, presided over predominately by white people, convict Anglos at 1/4 the rate of Asian, Latino & African-Americans.

    This current President refuses to accept that the odds of young African-American males either dying or being incarcerated is terribly high. Studies show that one in three black men can expect to go to jail in their lifetimes. Unlike George Bush, who just wants to stick his head in the sand, as president, we need a President will address the issue head-on so that all Americans–whether African-American or not–can live a better life and the American dream.

    Even more galling has been the church’s predominately silent response to this, if not a passive enabling. Kairos is a great program – transformative in fact. I do worry that we need to look upstream, at the root causes and the impact our choices have.

  8. Ad Orientem says:

    The problem is that we live in a country with a rather limited imagination for dealing with anti-social behavior. Lock em up is the on size fits all answer we have. Any politician who dares to suggest that prison is a counterproductive punishment for most crimes runs the high risk of being labeled soft on crime at the next election.

    We need to start dealing with our problems instead of just warehousing them. Yes there are certainly people who need to be locked up. But that really should be limited to violent criminals and recidivists. Prison is not a place to rehabilitate criminals. It’s a school that creates better criminals. And it is also a place that by its very nature turns non-violent offenders into violent ones.

    But I am not holding my breath on any serious sentencing reforms. The political risks are too great.


  9. Wilfred says:

    #8 Bob – Calm down, It was a joke! Sheesh.

    But seriously, would you be in favor of re-defining the term “jury of your peers” to mean only people of the same race? White juries for white defendants, black juries for black defendants, etc.? This would remove any possibility of racism in the verdicts. Is this what you want?

    I think such a plan would be a bad idea, because it would foster a separatist mentality or racial spoils system. Which is what “affirmative action” does.

  10. New Reformation Advocate says:

    Thanks to #6, physician without health, and #7, Philip Snyder (Dallas) for your kind words and endorsement of my #4.

    Ad Orientem (#9),

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. Chuck Colson has been calling for radical prison reform for years, but his cries have generally fallen on deaf ears. It’s not just that prisons are terrible places to try to rehabilitate people; they indeed usually just warehouse them and often turn minor criminals into worse ones. They are also incredibly expensive to build and run. Now that’s an argument (saving taxpayer dollars) that might cause some politicians to get up the courage to address this neglected issue. And mandatory sentencing laws that bind the hands of judges only aggrevate this problem.

    Back in the 1800s, evangelicals were in the forefront of prison reform. I’d love to see Christians (and not just evangelicals, but even eastern orthodox ones like Ad Orientem) once again get out in front and lead the way on this huge and growing problem in our society. You are absolutely right, Ad Orientem, “one size doesn’t fit all.” There’s lots of room for more creative sentencing, which would be to everyone’s benefit.

    And yes, ICXC (NIKA), “Jesus Christ Conquers.”

    David Handy+
    (BTW, my vanity license plate reads XT NIKA)

  11. bob carlton says:


    There really is nothing in your comment that could be seen as something said or done to provoke laughter or cause amusement.

    I am thankful that kind of vile comment has been deleted. It is certainly beneath Canon Harmon.

  12. bob carlton says:

    To place this in some perspective:

    Twenty years ago we spent 32 cents on prisons for every dollar we spent on higher ed, today, it’s 60 cents. This is due in large part to the crunch on state budgets–the first thing to be trimmed from the budget is usually colleges and universities. The reasoning is that students can pay higher tuition rates to make up the difference, but with prisons, an increased population must be supported by the state.

  13. Philip Snyder says:

    One problem with the prison system and the Church is that when Christians try to set up places where the incarcerated who want to be changed can live apart from the anger and hatred of the general population, the ACLU comes down like a ton of bricks and cries “Establishment of Religion!”

    When President Bush tried to get Churches involved in solving problems “upstream” and tried to provide federal funds to help with that, the liberal establishment and the ACLU cried “Establishment of Religion” and the process was dashed against the rocks.

    The Church needs to be involved both upstream, midstream, and downstream. According to every prison chaplain I’ve ever talked with, the single biggest impact on recidivism is an honest religious conversion. I’ve seen it happen and I know Jesus can change lives.

    The basic problem in the United States is not that we have too much religion in our political and social structures, but that we have too few people of faith living in the US and involved in these problems. What are you going to do about it?

    Phil Snyder

  14. bob carlton says:

    I think this is a bit more complex than “damn those liberals” or even “damn that Bush”.

  15. Philip Snyder says:

    Bob – I’m not worried about the “damn liberals.” I am more worried about the “damned” secularists – even (especially!) those within the Church.
    Secularlism is a mindset that relegates faith to a purely personal arena which is not allowed to speak to or interact with the public arena. It is a mindset that says “religion (or faith) is good, up to a point” and talks of “moderation in all things.” (reference Screwtape letter #1 or 2, I don’t remember right now). Secularism refuses to see that a society without God is a society that will denegrate into lawlessness. There are secularlists on the right as well as the left, but they are more prominent on the left.

    I don’t see that allowing those inmates that want to live in a Christian prison to have that ability (so long as the prison is safe in secure and meets security and wellbeing guidelines) creates an establishment of religion problem. I don’t see that funding programs that use faith to change peoples’ lives (and Faith is the greatest change agent in how people live) creates an establishment of religion problem. No one mandates that prisoners ask to be involved in prison. No one mandates that people seek out faith based solutions to poverty, drug abuse, broken families, or what ever the problem is.

    In the prison I serve, there are men who have been waiting for 5+ years to get into the Kairos program. They’ve seen the change it makes and the new life that these men have and they want it for themselves.
    The world doesn’t need more secularlists. The world needs Jesus and people willing to proclaim Jesus to the world.

    Phil Snyder

  16. Words Matter says:

    [i] Just imagine what that means in terms of its profound effects on the African-American community when an astonishing 11% of its young men of marriageable age and in the prime of life are locked up. [/i]

    But just imagine what it means that 11% of the young men are commiting felony crimes? Imagine what it means to live next to a crack house. Imagine what it means to have gang warfare on your street. I pick this one phrase from Fr. Handy’s well-meaning comment not to pick on Fr. Handy, but to bring the discussion into reality. The last stats I saw put the most likely cause of death for a young black man to be another young black man. I know you folks mean well, but I doubt many of you live in neighborhoods where you hear gunshots, worry about stray bullets, or where your neighbors pile up copper wire in their back yard at night. I don’t either, but I spend a lot of time in those neighborhoods as a parole officer. One of my guys lives in a duplex next to crack dealers. Home visits are a blast, I assure you.

    A couple of thoughts: first time convictions for drugs generally lead to probation and drug treatment in the community. I’m not sure you would know that reading up on the subject. I work with hard core guys now – rapists, child molesters, murders, etc. – but when I had a regular caseload, almost every one of my folks was on for drugs or a crime committed behind drugs. They all had probation which they violated, usually with more drugs. Texas (my home state) has a locked treatment option as well, and it’s often difficult to get my guys in them for the probationers. About 15 years ago, we developed “state jails” to separate non-violent folks convicted of, mainly, drug possession and property crimes (which are often committed to get drugs). These jails segregated non-violent offenders from more hard-core types, and had a strong drug treatment component, until it was felt that outcomes of treatment didn’t warrant the expenditures – in other words, that the treatment really didn’t make a measurable difference. I don’t know if that is true or was a political excuse to cut funding. Maybe a little of both.

    BTW, another thing that actually happens (again, not that you would know it sometimes) is faith-based interventions. Last I heard, the prison in Texas run by Chuck Colson’s organization had passed legal muster and was still running. Is that right? This is another one of those things that works well at the local level, but probably not the higher in the governmental structure you go. It’s easily messed up with money. Besides attracting attention from the secular vultures, government money really makes things too easy in one way, and too hard in another.

    At the local level, we work fairly well with a variety of ministries, who actually come and do programs on our property, and to whom we refer clients who are willing. I am well acquainted with an excellent sex offender residential and aftercare program and some decent drug treatment programs with a definite Christian basis. All of which is to say that a great deal is happening that the New York Times and the ACLU doesn’t know about. Actual cooperation between the public and the private, religious sectors.

    Sorry to ramble on – it was end-of-the-month madness at the parole office together getting the stats done and computer records up to date plus deal with the daily trauma.

    I would, however, like to say that it is terribly important to not reduce these people to social problems that need solving. Well meaning liberals and conservatives alike too often chatter on as though we can pull some strings and fix these people. AO, I don’t mean to pick on you either, but look at the language you use: “dealing with anti-social behavior”, locking up “our problems”. These are people, not problems. They aren’t here to be fixed by well-meaning folks, Christian or secularist either one. Again, I don’t mean to pick on you, AO, but perhaps the best take on the criminal person is still Officer Krupke. 50 years later, I’m not sure it can be said better.

  17. Brad Drell says:

    The main problem is that we haven’t found enough effective ways to deal with the folks we are mad at vs. the folks we are afraid of.

  18. Irenaeus says:

    “The main problem is that we haven’t found enough effective ways to deal with the folks we are mad at vs. the folks we are afraid of”

    Brad [#17]: Intriguing comment. Would you be willing to elaborate on it?

  19. Hope says:

    Compare with the usual sociologist’s estimate that about five percent of the population in one way or another are too deviant to be expected to live peacefully among us and perhaps these numbers make more sense.
    Yes, we should be looking at causes. But unless some of these people are firmly dealt with–kept from reoffending in one way or another–we will never make any kind of inroads and the problem will simply grow.

  20. John Wilkins says:

    Fixing someone’s life who might be behind bars for a good reason, isn’t something that is done with simply money, or a magic bullet, or incarceration. As someone who works with plenty of recently released people, what they need is constant attention and support from people who care about them and won’t let them go into old patterns. Unfortunately, the hurdles are immense, even if it is less expensive than prison. Assigning, for example, one social worker for 5 guys and solid half-way houses and basic work (this is something some churches do), is expensive, but it tends to work. But it is still less expensive than prison.

    We’ve chosen that prison is more important than education, generally. That’s where our resources go. Perhaps if we decided we really cared about education, we’d find a lower rate of crime.

    Hope – there is an estimate that 1 in 20 people are psychopathic. But any sort of institution that rewards cutthroat competition will end up rewarding those psychopaths, who often find themselves in institutions where they are rewarded for behavior that would not be rewarded in other places.