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Matter of Fact

[Editor's Note: all of this month's facts were gleaned from one source: "Intended and Unintended Consequences: State Racial Disparities in Imprisonment," a January, 1997, report of The Sentencing Project. Copies of this 25-page report are available for $8 from: The Sentencing Project; 918 F St., NW, Suite 501; Washington DC, 20004.]

The incarceration rate for whites in the District of Columbia is 84 per 100,000 population; for blacks it is 2,966. If you are black and live in Washington D.C. you are 35 times more likely to be incarcerated than the typical white resident.

In the years 1988-94 state and federal prisons experienced a 29.8 percent increase in the number of prisoners incarcerated for property offenses. For violent offenders, the increase was 51.9 percent. The largest growth segment was drug offenders, which showed a whopping 155.5 percent increase in imprisonment. For white drug offenders, however, the increase in imprisonment in a similar period (1986-91) was only 110.6 percent. The increase in imprisonment of black drug offenders in this period was a staggering 465.5 percent.

In 1994 Justice Department figures reveal that 6.75 percent of all adult black males were incarcerated on any given day. In the 20-29 age group, about 11.7 percent of black males were incarcerated on any given day in 1994.

Economist Richard B. Freeman reports that about 2 percent of the U.S. male work force is incarcerated. Imprisoned persons are not counted among those cited in official U.S. unemployment statistics.

Miles D. Harer wrote in the Federal Sentencing Reporter (Vol. 7, No. 1, 1994) that over half of those sentenced to federal prison in 1992 were drug traffickers and of those, 62 percent, or 9,000 offenders, were considered low risk as defined by their limited criminal history.

A 1996 RAND study evaluating the impact of a $1 million investment in intervention programs, found that providing cash and other incentives for disadvantaged students to graduate from high school would result in a reduction of 258 crimes per year, compared to a reduction of 60 crimes a year through building and operating prisons.

The General Accounting Office in 1996 compiled an analysis of prison spending for the past fifteen years. Their analysts concluded that federal and state prison operating costs increased from $3.1 billion in fiscal year 1980 to $17.7 billion in 1994, an increase of 224 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars. [Editor's Note: The 1980 state and federal prison population stood at 329,821. Using these figures, the operating expense per prisoner was $9,399. The 1994 state and federal prison population was 1,093,738. Divided into the $17.7 billion cited above yields a per-prisoner operating expense of $16,183 in 1994.]

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