Go Directly to Jail, Do Not Pass Go…

The recent issue of Sojourners magazine cited some sobering facts about the state of the prison system in the US:

  • 7.4 million people were under the control of the US criminal justice system in 2007. I’m not exactly sure what is meant by “under control,” but that is over 2% of the population, which is shocking.
  • 67% of people released from prison are re-arrested within three years. So, the number of repeat offenders in prison is substantial. The question is, how much does incarceration contribute to recidivism? More to the point, would crime decrease, if we could keep first-time offenders out of prison? Environment has to be another factor, and in most cases, a released prisoner returns to the same environment; that doesn’t help. Economics would be another factor; see the next point.
  • 83.5% of the people in jail (in 2002) earned less than $2,000 a month prior to being arrested. Certainly, economic pressure is a factor in the commission of crimes.  Interestingly, a $2,000 month threshold is quite a bit more than the poverty level, which the US Census Bureau put at $9,183 a year for a single person in 2002. Two thousand a month roughly equates to an hourly wage of $12.50, quite a bit higher than the current minimum wage. This all suggests that viable employment, at an appropriate wage, is part of the solution to lower crime and incarceration.

(The title of this post comes from the game of Monopoly and was chosen merely to be catchy and provoking. Interestingly, Go Directly to Jail is also the title of a book on this subject. I haven’t read it, but it may be worth checking out. The product description on Amazon is most promising, but the reader reviews suggest that it digresses from that tack. Caveat emptor.)

What do you think? Please leave a comment!