Wednesday, June 29, 2005

midyear incarceration numbers

The Department of Justice's Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2004 arrived in my mailbox yesterday (after 10 years of professin', DOJ still addresses stuff to "graduate student Christopher Uggen"). I'd seen the report online, but always give a little more attention to the hard copies. The national incarceration rate (including jails as well as state and federal prisons), is now at 726 per 100,000 residents. This is quite high by international standards -- about 5 to 10 times higher than other nations similar to the United States (England and Wales have a rate of 141, Canada a rate of 116, Germany 96, Japan 58, and so on). Still, the social distribution of this .7% of the population is the real story:
  • A rate of 1,348 per 100,000 for males
  • A rate of 4,919 per 100,000 for African American males
  • A rate of 12,603 per 100,000 for African American males age 25-29

So, about 13% of the population in the latter age/race/gender category is currently incarcerated. A much higher proportion, of course, is under some form of criminal justice supervision. The probation numbers dwarf prison numbers and still more are supervised on parole in the communities. To these one might add former felons who have served their time -- people currently "off-paper" but with a history of criminal justice supervision. I believe that about 1/3 of the African American male population is currently or has once been under criminal justice supervision. This figure seems unbelievably high to most people, but more credible once they see the current population data.

For 25 years, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has provided high quality U.S. crime and justice data. As in other government agencies, there has been talk of "outsourcing" or downsizing the small staff at BJS. I hope that such ideas are quickly put to rest. "Quick and dirty" crime and justice data collection or, worse, subjecting such data collection to greater politicization, would seriously undermine both criminological research and the public trust.

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