Posts Tagged ‘prison’

Why still so many Americans in prison?

February 13, 2015

us-incarceration-and-crime-rates

Why are there so many Americans in prison?  Why did the incarceration rate continue to rise even though the rate of violent crime went down?

I thought for a long time that the main reasons were that so many young men, especially black men, were imprisoned for nonviolent drug offenses, and that state laws required judges to impose long sentences even when the crimes were relatively trivial.

But John Pfaff, a Fordham law professor, has done an analysis indicating that, even if you fixed these two things, the U.S. prison population would only decline a little bit.

What then is the problem?  Pfaff said the increased prison population is due to zealous prosecutors.  In 1994, someone who was arrested faced a one change in three that a prosecutor would file felony charges.  By 2008, the odds of a felony charge were two in three.  Statistically, he said, this explains most of the increase.

It is not obvious what to do.  Prosecutors don’t a name for themselves, nor increase their chances of higher office, by exercising restraint.

LINK

Mass incarceration: A provocative new theory for why so many Americans are in prison by Leon Neyfakh for Slate.  (Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist)

The Imprisoner’s Dilemma by Oliver Roeder for FiveThirtyEight.  (Hat tip to kottke.org)  More statistics and analysis.  [Added 2/14/15]