The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
The Prison Population Binge

Daniel S. Murphy • August 3, 2003

The prison population is growing at an alarming rate and has reached a population density unparalleled in the history of the United States of America. On August 4, 2003, the number of people imprisoned within the Federal Bureau of prisons reached an all time high of, 171, 606 (Federal Cure, 2003). Of this population, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has confirmed that 84% are first time, non-violent offenders (Federal Cure, 2003). Currently, over 2.2 million people are confined in state and federal prisons (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003). One in thirty-two United States Citizens are presently incarcerated or on probation or parole (Bureau of Justice Statistics 2002a). The United States of America incarcerates the highest percentage of its citizenry, as well as the highest raw number of individual citizens, among all industrialized nations (Cato Institute, 2003).

From the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s, the American prison population increased by 84 percent (Bureau of Criminal Justice Statistics, 2001, 2002a). The incarceration rate of State and Federal prisoners sentenced in 2002 was 701 per 100,000 U.S. residents. Blacks were sentenced at a rate of 3,473/100,000, Hispanics at a rate of 1,176/100,000, and Whites at a rate of 450/100,000 (Sentencing Project, 2003). The disparity in sentencing along racial lines is clear, but how is this variance explained?

Prison over crowding is a salient issue in light of contemporary sentencing policy. State prisons incarcerated populations ranged from 100 percent of rated prison capacity to 115 percent of rated prison capacity. Federal prisons incarcerated populations represented 131 percent of the rated capacity of all federal prisons in the United States (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2002a). It may be that prison over crowding influences how individuals adjust to the prison environment, and over crowding may also lead to psychological damage including Post Traumatic Stress Symptoms.

The most tangible cost of the “imprisonment binge” (Austin and Irwin, 2000) is the cost to taxpayers. Conservative estimates place the costs of incarcerating an individual at $30,000 per year. The U.S Department of Justice reports in fiscal year 1999 the United States of America incurred direct expenditures for corrections in the amount of $49,006,871,000 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2001). In effort to keep pace with the rapidly growing inmate population, prisons are being constructed at an unprecedented rate (Department of Justice, 2003) at a construction cost of approximately $100,000 per cell (Sentencing Project, 2003).

Incarceration and Societal Impact: Exportation Model

The importation model (Sykes, 1958) asserts that prisoners who have been exposed to violence at home or in the streets, and/or, have family histories of alcohol and substance abuse, are at greater risk of behavioral misconduct while in prison. The exportation model (present study) addresses the possible consequences for those who have endured potentially traumatic and damaging experiences inherent in the prison environment, and the resultant potentially negative ramifications for society.

Clemer (1962) describes the inculcation into prison culture as “prisonization.” He suggests the effects of prisonization may be carried with the prisoner upon release. Once the prisoner is released from incarceration, the community is faced with an array of potentially negative repercussions ranging from increased social costs to increased crime.

As result of incarceration individuals may develop psychological problems, including Post Traumatic Stress Symptoms. Such individuals are returned to society as “damaged goods” (Hochstetler, Murphy, and Sminons, forthcoming). The release of people who may suffer psychological damage as result of the prison experience may hold serious consequences for society at large.

Further, the prison experience may increase a form of human capital McCarthy and Hagan (1995) refer to as “criminal capital.” Prison may be viewed as the university of crime, where criminal skills and techniques are the curriculum. Resources such as information and skills learned in prison may enhance criminal expertise, and ultimately may be exported to the general public by way of the released prisoner’. If this is the case, the prison experience itself may lead to more refined and skilled criminals who may pose serious problems upon their return to free society.

Upon release, an individual will return to the community and may commit additional offences. Wheeler and Hissong (1988) found ex-prisoners to be 2.3 times more likely to be charged with a new offense, compared to pre-prison probationers. Also, they were 1.8 times more likely to be convicted of a new offence and 2.2 times more likely to be incarcerated for a new offence compared to those sentenced to probation. Results of this study indicate that males, Blacks, younger offenders, and those with more prior felony convictions have higher rates of recidivism.

However, the majority of those returned to prison recidivate due to technical violations of conditions of probation or parole. These violations include drinking, drug use, failure to report to probation officer, associating with convicted criminals, possession of fire arms, leaving jurisdiction without permission, failure to inform probation officer of new home address, etc. As result of violating a set of rules, that are not laws, many are returned to prison.

In 1997, 60% of those on probation or parole were returned to prison for technical violations, 10% for other violations, and 30% for new criminal offenses (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000). Between 1990 and 1998 the number of returned probation and parole technical violators increased 54% (NCJ, 184735). At the end of 2001, approximately 4.7 million men and women were on probation or parole, an increase of approximately 113,791 compared to 2000 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003). It appears technical violation of conditions of probation or parole, not commission of new crimes, drives the revolving door of prison.



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

22 August 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


A Pathological Political Disorder
Anthony McIntyre


Letter to the Blanket

Michael McKevitt


Deeply Flawed

Douglas Hamilton


The Prison Population Binge
Daniel S. Murphy


Going Native
Kathleen O Halloran


The Hall and State of Illusions
Davy Carlin


Liam O Ruairc


Mazen Dana
Sean Noonan


Michael Moore in Belfast: Stupid White Men
Anthony McIntyre


11 August 2003


Revenge, Not Justice
Anthony McIntyre


Statement of Michael McKevitt


Brutality in Maghaberry Extends to Visitors

Martin Mulholland, IRPWA


Federal Prisoner Becomes University Professor
Stephen C. Richards


What is the New School of Convict Criminology?
Jeffery Ian Ross and Stephen C. Richards


Intellectuals and the Cold War
John Harrington


Kevin Lynch Commemoration Speech
Jimmy Bradley


Neo-Liberal Nicaragua: Neo Banana Republic
Toni Solo




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