Don’t Take Pride in Not Being the Worst
In a study highlighted by the New York Times and every other major news publication in the country, the Pew Center on the States released data today stating that more than one in every 100 Americans is currently incarcerated in some kind of state or local correctional facility. Hearing this information initially made me stop and question that math (it’s actually one in every 99.1 Americans) but then forced me to question whether Missouri faces a similar problem.
According to data made available by the Missouri Department of Corrections, there are 30,685 inmates (as of February 2008) incarcerated in Missouri penitentiaries, along with another 71,000 under some alternate form of corrective state supervision. Thus, with Missouri’s population hovering around 6 million, this means that about 1.6 percent of Missouri’s population is currently restricted by the DOC.
This information means nothing, though, without context. Last summer, the DOC and state officials were quick to brag about how well the state’s new recommended sentence system was doing at lowering the prison population and reducing recidivism, stating that the 2.1-percent drop from 2005 to 2006 was one of the best in the nation. However, since that time, inmate populations have begun to increase yet again, with 2007 seeing a .5-percent increase, according to the Pew Center Study.
More important than the amount of increase, though, is that inmate numbers are increasing at all in a corrections system that, like most others around the country, is becoming more and more overcrowded. Missouri’s 20 penitentiaries currently boast a capacity of 29,988 a capacity that has already been blown past and is looking to be stretched even thinner in coming years, with the looming threat of recession.
Granted, a half-percentage-point increase in prison population isn’t as bad as that seen by Kentucky (12 percent) or Iowa (8 percent), but Missouri’s lawmakers should be looking for new methods to reduce the prison population itself especially when, according to the report, Missouri spends only 67 cents on higher education for every dollar it spends on corrections.
I wonder: If that ratio was switched, would more than one problem be solved?