More than 1 in 100 American adults are in prison or jail, the Pew Charitable Trust’s Public Safety Performance Project reported today. Pew said the numbers behind bars climbed last year by about 25,000 overall, “saddling cash-strapped states with soaring costs they can ill afford and failing to have a clear impact either on recidivism or overall crime.” States spent more than $44 billion on corrections last year, an increase of 127 percent in two decades adjusted for 2007 dollars. Over the same period, adjusted spending on higher education rose 21 percent.
Noting that in some cases, states are paying $24,000 annually to keep minor offender behind bars, state leaders around the U.S. are calling “time out,” said Adam Gelb, project director. He pointed out that Texas has have rejected new prison building in favor of more community-based treatment programs. Both Kansas and Texas increasingly are imposing sanctions other than prison for minor probation and parole violations. The Pew report says that violent and repeat offeders should be locked up, but “states are discovering that casting such a wide net for prisoners creates a vexing fiscal burden–especially in lean times.” More than half of released offenders return to prison within three years either for a new crime or for violating the terms of their release. Pew is working with states to promote “fiscally sound, data-driven policies and practices.”