Americans have mastered the art of locking up criminals, and the nation’s declining crime rate proves
the success of the program.
What impact has this transition to a nation of jailers had on the communities inmates leave behind, and
our country as a whole? What will we do with the ex-cons when they are eventually set free?
Some two million Americans are behind bars today. In Texas, the total inmate population has grown
nearly 500% in less than a quarter of a century. Texas prisons are home to more than 220,000 inmates.
California, a much larger state than Texas, has an inmate population of 240,000.
America’s rate of imprisonment is the highest on the planet. We recently passed Russia, our only real
competitor for that title, and the gap is steadily widening. The cost of holding the title of “Chief Jailer in
the World” comes at a hefty price: between 1985 and 1996, total expenditures on state prisons more
than doubled, growing from $13 billion to over $27 billion.
In Mississippi, prison building is often thought of as economic development for the communities where
Finding a solution to rising tide of crime
From a historical perspective, the U.S. faced a problem, addressed it and solved it.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, crime statistics ratcheted upward at an alarming rate. Prisons were viewed
as backward and ineffective, so most convicts were channeled into community rehab programs.
By the late 1980s and early 1990s, citizens had forced government to abandon rehab programs and
incarcerate more and more offenders. At that point, the prison population was growing by about 9% a
A more aggressive attitude toward jailing offenders sent more to prison, but they didn’t stay long. Lack
of facilities and a continuing soft attitude on the part of judges made prison a revolving-door measure.
In recent years, the public has demanded, and is receiving, longer prison sentences. The result of more
convictions and longer sentences is a tremendous growth in the prison population across the country.
Once free, what happens?
Now the nation faces the next chapter of the book: What are we going to do with all these ex-cons when
they are released back into society.
It is a likely presumption that a person who is hungry will not stand idly by and starve to death as long
as food can be stolen. It is also fairly safe to assume that having “convict” on your r