America's Correctional System: Alternatives to Current National Practice
by Francis P. Koster, Ed.D.
As of January 2009, the United States had a population of 305 million. 2.3 million of them are behind bars. We have the highest percentage of our citizens in jail of any nation in the world. Additionally, the number of people on probation or parole has propelled the population of the American corrections system to more than 7.3 million, or 1 in every 31 U.S. adults.
Nationally, the most incarcerated group of people is males from the age of 25 through the age of 29 – they are incarcerated at a rate of 3,390 per 100,000. Within that group of men, Whites are incarcerated at a rate of 1,666 per 100,000 persons, Hispanics at a rate of 3,606, and African Americans at a rate of 12,603.
According to one recent report from the Pew Charitable Trusts:
”More than one in 100 adults Americans is in jail or prison, an all-time high that is costing state governments nearly $50 billion a year, in addition to more than $5 billion spent by the federal government, according to a report released today.
With more than 2.3 million people behind bars at the start of 2008, the United States leads the world in both the number and the percentage of residents it incarcerates, leaving even far more populous China a distant second (population 1billion 300 million – 4 times our size ed.note) , noted the report by the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States.
The ballooning prison population is largely the result of tougher state and federal sentencing imposed since the mid-1980s. Minorities have been hit particularly hard: One in nine black men age 20 to 34 is behind bars. For black women age 35 to 39, the figure is one in 100, compared with one in 355 white women in the same age group.” 
There are many successful programs which reduce imprisonment and avoid repeat offenses against society which require jail time. For an introduction to some of them, see the list of successes which are listed here on the website.
A jail holds inmates from two days up to one year. Prisons are for people convicted of crimes which carry a sentence of one year or more. The most notable difference is that prison inmates have been tried and convicted of crimes, while those in jail may be awaiting trial. A prison is under the jurisdiction of either federal or state, while the jail holds people accused under federal, state, county and/or city laws. A jail holds inmates from two days up to one year. 
Drug offenders made up 19.5% of all people doing time in the states, or roughly 400,000 people. In the federal system, drug offenders account for well over half of the 200,000 prisoners, for a total of 600,000 people out of the 2.3 million. 
About one half are there for violent crimes. 
If one believes that children adopt the behaviors of their role models, the adults in their lives, it follow that one should want to invest in such organizations as Boy Scouts, the YMCA, and other organizations where kids can see and imitate behaviors society deems desireable. By the same logic, it might be assumed that if a child’s role model spends time behind bars, the child might also grow in that direction. This is indeed the case, as many children of prisoners go on to become prisoners themselves.
It costs taxpayers around $30,000 to keep someone behind bars in a government funded institution, compared to $25,000 to send them to a 4-year college degree at a state funded institution (including tuition, room and board).
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.