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U.S. Prisons Overcrowded and Violent, Recidivism High

Confronting Confinement, a June 2006 U.S. prison study by the bipartisan Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons, reports than on any given day more than 2 million people are incarcerated in the United States, and that over the course of a year, 13.5 million spend time in prison or jail. African Americans are imprisoned at a rate roughly seven times higher than whites, and Hispanics at a rate three times higher than whites. Within three years of their release, 67% of former prisoners are rearrested and 52% are re-incarcerated, a recidivism rate that calls into question the effectiveness of America's corrections system, which costs taxpayers $60 billion a year. Violence, overcrowding, poor medical and mental health care, and numerous other failings plague America's 5,000 prisons and jails. The study indicates that even small improvements in medical care could significantly reduce recidivism. “What happens inside jails and prisons does not stay inside jails and prisons,” the commission concludes, since 95% of inmates are eventually released back into society, ill-equipped to lead productive lives. Given the dramatic rise in incarceration over the past decade, public safety is threatened unless the corrections system does in fact “correct” rather than simply punish. For a copy of the complete report and the commission's recommendations for reform, see www.prisoncommission.org/report.asp.


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Incarceration and Capital Punishment Federal Prison Inmates, by Most Serious Offense, 2003

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