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Criminal Justice Statistics

By Ed Mead

You must have done something terribly wrong in a previous life (or maybe it was this one?), as I am now going to stick you with the task of reading a bunch of the government's criminal justice statistics. What I have for you is information from three recent studies; Drug Enforcement and Treatment in Prisons, 1990; the National Update from the Bureau of Justice Statistics; and the National Corrections reporting Program, 1989. It may not be too bad, though, as when I go through these documents I look at material that's interesting to me, and then share it with you. If you want more details about any of this you should order the study or report yourself. I'll give you the address to write to at the end of this piece.

Drug Use

For example, in the Drug Enforcement in Prisons, 1990, I was surprised to learn that in nearly every category, except for cocaine, the prison staff had higher positive rates in their drug tests than did the inmates. For amphetamines prisoners tested at a 1.4% rate, while the staff tested at 3.3% positive. In tests for cocaine convicts were 1.2% positive, while staff was only 1.0% positive. Prisoners were .6% positive for heroine use, while the staff was .9% for that drug. Prisoners were 4.6% for marijuana use, while the staff showed a positive rate of 5.4%. For methamphetamines, prisoners recorded a .6% positive rate, while their captors tested out at a .9% positive rate. The report containing this information collected material from 957 state prisons, 80 federal joints, and 250 community based facilities between July 1, 1989 and June 29, 1990.

The outcome for the first positive drug test of a staff member in state and federal prisons was dismissal in only 36.4% and 35.5% respectively. In other words, according to this study, some 65% of correctional staff found to have tested positive for drug use did not lose their jobs. While 83% of federal joints reported they tested their staff for drugs, 42% of state confinement facilities and 32% of community-based centers checked employees. About 55% of federal prisons tested all staff, as did 30% of state confinement facilities and 19% of community-based facilities.

Correctional Spending

Next we have the Bureau of Justice Statistics National Update, which has some interesting figures on justice spending. In fiscal year 1990 federal, state, and local governments spent $74 billion for civil and criminal justice, an increase of 21% since 1988. Three cents (3.3%) of every government dollar spent throughout the nation in 1990 were for justice activities: 1.4% for police protection, 1.1% for corrections, and 0.7% for judicial and legal services. In October 1990, the nation's civil and criminal justice system employed 1.7 million persons, with a total October payroll of almost $4.3 billion.

At all levels, governments are spending a greater proportion of their corrections dollars on institutions rather than probation, parole, and pardon. Since 1979, state government expenditures for prison construction increased 612% in actual dollars; almost twice as fast as spending to operate correctional institutions, which rose 328%. State governments spent 3.9% of their total dollars for corrections, including building and operating institutions and running probation and parole programs.

Admissions & Releases

Next, and probably the least interesting to me, we have the National Corrections Reporting Program, 1989. Other than the racial data, I found the materials in the 95-paged document less interesting than the others. The information was collected from 37 states and the District of Columbia, and is based on 324,774 admissions (about four-fifths of all admissions to state prisons in 1989). Whites accounted for 46% of all state prison admissions; blacks, 53%; and other races, primarily American Indians and Asians, 1%. Hispanics of all races made up 17% of all reported prison admissions. Overall, black prisoners received median sentences 6 months longer than whites (48 months compared to 42 months).

When it came to releases for 1989, there were a total of 268,207, or four-fifths of all releases from state joints during that year. The median time served for blacks being released was longer than that for whites for all violent offenses, except for unspecified homicide and other sexual assaults. Of state parolees discharged in 1989, over two-thirds of the whites and over half the blacks had successfully completed parole supervision. Among those who were discharged from supervision, more blacks (36%) that whites (27%) were returned to prison for violating the conditions of parole.

You can obtain copies of any of the above reports from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Clearinghouse, Box 6000, Rockville, MD 20850. What I have provided is only an outline of the information provided in these studies. There is a lot more material, including stuff you may have a use for, that can be obtained by writing for your own copies.

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