In June 2006, the Department of Justice reported that over 2.2 million people were incarcerated in Federal and State prisons and local jails. At year end 2005, there were 3,145 African-American male prison inmates per 100,000 African-American males in the United States, compared to 1,244 Latino male inmates per 100,000 Latino males and 471 white male inmates per 100,000 white males.
A sharp increase in the incarceration rate during the 1980’s and 1990’s has lead to an epidemic of overcrowding in prisons. In California, approximately 172,000 inmates are housed in institutions meant to hold fewer than 90,000. Experts attribute increased levels of disease, prison escapes, drug use, violence and recidivism to overcrowding. Class action lawsuits have been filed across the nation on behalf of inmates. In some cases, federal courts have declared the level of medical and mental health care in the prison system unconstitutional.
In response, officials have considered several solutions to overcrowding, including bulking up state budgets by millions to build more prisons, releasing individuals early from their sentences, transferring inmates to other states, deporting undocumented immigrants, putting caps on prison populations and outsourcing to private corporations. While each of these remedies has met opposition from community activists to prisoner rights advocates, are any of these viable solutions? Should we consider alternatives outside of incarceration such as home detention or drug treatment programs?
Some argue that the imprisonment rate is the problem. Have we created too many offenses punishable by incarceration? Have we become overreliant on imprisonment as a solution to social problems? Is reducing the number of individuals in prison the solution?
Join us this week at Café Society to ask whether overcrowding should be solved by imprisoning fewer people or by building more cells.
For more informaiton, please contact Kristin Millikan at 312.422.5580.