Add to My MSN

State Prisons: Listen To The Feds

12/12/2007 1:36:32 PM

Tags: race and prison, race, prison, Supreme Court sentencing, crack cocaine, crack, sentencing disparities, U.S. Sentencing Commission

Prison by Dlyan OliphantLast week the Bureau of Justice Statistics announced that incarceration remains a thriving growth industry in the United States. According to the agency (pdf), by the end of 2006, 1 in 31 American adults were under penal supervision—either in prisons or jails, or on probation or parole. Then, this week, the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Sentencing Commission took aim at the disproportionately harsh sentences meted out for crack-cocaine offenses, suggesting that Americans and their democratic institutions might finally be waking up to the gross racial disparities haunting our prison system.

That’s all good news, but there’s still much work to be done, especially on the state level, where most of the country’s inmates originate. As Glenn C. Loury reports in “America Incarcerated” (reprinted from the Boston Review in our Nov.-Dec. issue):

One-third of inmates in state prisons are violent criminals, convicted of homicide, rape, or robbery. The other two-thirds consist mainly of property and drug offenders. Inmates are disproportionately drawn from the most disadvantaged parts of society. On average, state inmates have fewer than 11 years of schooling. They are also vastly disproportionately black and brown.

If our criminal justice system is to resurrect its credibility, states will have to take the feds’ cue and shed their status as warehousers of low-level offenders of color.

Hannah Lobel

Content Tools

Pay Now Save $5!

Print and DigitalWant to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.

Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5 and get 4 issues of Utne Reader for only $31.00 (USA only).

Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 4 issues of Utne Reader!

(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here