Monday, March 3, 2008

wild wild west

it seems everyone is writing about the story that the U.S. currently imprisons 1 in 100 adults. i'm glad the story is making news and getting attention, but ultimately ashamed of the statistic. rather than write about the general trends, i thought i would point out a few facts about oregon and imprisonment. with my involvement teaching inside-out classes and teaching introductory sociology in the oregon state penitentiary, i spend a lot of time in prison these days and this all hits close to home for me.

it turns out that oregon earned a dubious distinction in this study: according to the oregonian newspaper, oregon spends a bigger percentage of its state budget to lock up criminals and supervise those on parole than any other state. we're number one. and unfortunately, still growing. oregon's mandatory minimum sentences already deeply affect state prison populations, and in november we will vote on two alternatives to create mandatory minimums for drug offenses and property offenses. projected growth for the prison population is 12% to 44%, which would put oregon at the top of the list for prison growth as well as spending.

this affects us all, of course, in big and small ways. where are the priorities for our state? as an oregonian editorial reports: we're one of five states that spends more on imprisoning people than on sending them to college. as a professor at a state university, i can attest that we have faced budget cuts and crises nearly every year for the past six years. as a frequent volunteer/teacher in the state's maximum-security prison, i can also attest that mandatory minimums--with few options for treatment or rehabilitation for the offenders who will someday return to our communities--are absolutely not the best use of our collective resources.

i hope we join texas (texas!!) and other states in focusing on getting smart on crime rather than spending so much of our budget trying to be the toughest.

1 comment:

Mike said...

That's quite an amazing statistic. I am originally a native of Tennessee, where there are similar trends. For example, a $290 million dollar prison is presently being built, even as faculty salaries at state universities are about 30% below neighboring states.

What are your thoughts on the reported statistics? The numbers seem to roughly match up with BJS statistics on jail and prison populations. Its too bad the estimates do not report likelihoods of ever being in prison.

Mike