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One in One Hundred Adults Are Behind Bars in the United States

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"Increasingly, state policy makers are finding that a dollar spent for pre-K classes now can forestall many more dollars for prison beds down the road."

For the first time, more than one in every one hundred adults is confined in an American jail or prison. So says One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008, a new report from the Pew Center on the States. Overall, the report finds that one in fifty-four men in the United States aged eighteen or older is behind bars, but men of color are more likely to be imprisoned that their white counterparts. According to the report, one in 106 white men are incarcerated, compared to one in thirty-six Hispanic men, and one in fifteen African American men. Among African American men aged twenty to thirty-four, one out of nine is behind bars.

The report attributes the rise not to increases in crime or to a surge in population, but instead to policy choices that are sending more lawbreakers to prison and to “three strikes” measures and other sentence enhancements that keep prisoners there longer. Faced with an average cost per prisoner of $23,876, some states are beginning to rethink their crime-fighting strategies. Specifically, the report notes that Kansas and Texas have embraced a strategy that blends incentives for reduced recidivism with greater use of community supervision for low-risk offenders. However, states continue to spend tremendous amounts of money on their prisoners. According to the report, thirteen states now spend more than $1 billion a year in general funds for their corrections systems; California spends $8.8 billion annually.

“Year by year, corrections budgets are consuming an ever larger chunk of state general funds,” the report reads. “Collectively, correctional agencies now consume 6.8 percent of state general funds…Considering all types of funds, corrections had the second fastest rate of growth in FY 2006. With a 9.2 percent jump, it trailed transportation, but outpaced increases in spending on education and Medicaid.”

The report points out that increased spending on corrections competes with the funding that many states want to devote to early childhood education, which it calls one of the most proven crime prevention strategies. “Increasingly, state policy makers are finding that a dollar spent for pre-K classes now can forestall many more dollars for prison beds down the road,” it reads.

So can raising the high school graduation rate. The Alliance for Excellent Education’s issue brief “Saving Futures, Saving Dollars” finds that a 5 percent increase in the male graduation rate would save the nation approximately $5 billion annually in crime-related costs.

One in 100 is available at http://www.pewcenteronthestates.org/report_detail.aspx?id=33428.

“Saving Futures, Saving Dollars” is available at https://all4ed.org/files/SavingFutures.pdf.

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