Picking up on Rob’s earlier post about our ever-growing prison population, it’s worth noting that not only do we now have more than 1 in every 100 people incarcerated in the U.S., but we also have greater-than-ever racial disparities in whom we imprison. From Liptak:
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 is behind bars, but that one in 100 black women is.
That one-in-nine number is shocking. The high rate of incarcerated black men is no doubt due in large part to the war on (some classes of people who use some) drugs; this also accounts (at least in part) for the difference in incarceration rates for white women and black women.
Besides being racist, our prison policy is counterproductive. It doesn’t ensure community safety. It’s crushingly expensive. It doesn’t “rehabilitate” people. And as Marie Gottschalk argues in her book The Prison and the Gallows, prisons have become our alternative social “safety net” — how we deal with social problems like poverty that we don’t have the political will to actually address. Instead of providing social services and restructuring our educational system, we lock people up.