The Curious Autodidact

May 14, 2010

Books about Prison, new and old

Filed under: book related,media related,social justice — Honilima @ 9:04 pm

America’s prison population has grown exponentially in the past forty years. According to the bureau of prison statistics data as of 2007 there were 2.3 million people behind bars in federal and local prisons.

Piper Kerman’s book Orange is the New Black has garnered quite a bit of attention, a Smith College grad she wound up slithering into the world of drug trafficking. She was incarcerated for thirteen months, almost ten years after her involvement. Her book gives well-written look inside a prison experience, in a medium security facility in New York. Her experience is no picnic but she spends quite a bit of time describing the women she served with rather than dwell on her own frustrations. Ms. Kerman appeared on NPR’s Talk of the Nation and although the comments on their website are sort of sour grapes it is an interesting read. Here’s a link to her piece that appeared in the New York Times Magazine called Prison Day One.

She said there aren’t many books about women in prison and she is right although it is worth looking for Jean Harris‘s book They Always Call Us Ladies: Stories From Prison, (that is out of print) at the library.

Ted Conover is a brilliant journalist and author whose nonfiction work you may or may not be familiar. With the exception of his newest book Routes of Man I have read all of his other books through the years and enjoyed them all. His book Newjack details his stint working on the “inside” as a correctional officer at Sing Sing. If you want a taste of his work you can hear him on The Moth Podcast performing, without notes, his work “All Prisoners Lie.

Here are more facts that you’d likely want to know about our country’s prison industrial complex (one of my hot-button issues).

The Growing Corrections System
• The number of inmates in state and federal prisons has increased nearly seven-fold from less than 200,000 in 1970 to 1,518,535 by midyear 2007. An additional 780,581 are held in local jails, for a total of 2.3 million.
• Between 2000 and 2006, the state prison population increased by an average annual rate of 1.7%, the federal population by 5.3%, and jail population by 3.6%
• As of 2007, 1 of every 131 Americans was incarcerated in prison or jail.
• The number of persons on probation and parole has been growing dramatically along with institutional populations. There are now 7.3 million Americans incarcerated or on probation or parole, an increase of more than 290 percent since 1980.
• One in ten (10.4%) black males aged 25-29 was in prison or jail in 2007 as were 1 in 28 (3.6%) Hispanic males and 1 in 59 (1.7%) white males in the same age group.
• Nationally, 69 females per 100,000 women are serving a sentence in prison; 957 males per 100,000 men are in prison.
• The 2007 United States’ rate of incarceration of 762 inmates per 100,000 population is the highest reported rate in the world, well ahead of the Russian rate of 635 per 100,000.
Who is in our Prisons and Jails?
• 93% of prison inmates are male, 7% female.
• As of 2007, there were 208,300 women in state and federal prison or local jail.
• 40% of persons in prison or jail in 2006 were black and 20% were Hispanic.
• 62% of jail inmates in 2006 were unconvicted and awaiting trial, compared to 51% in 1990.
• 82% of those sentenced to state prisons in 2004 were convicted of non-violent crimes, including 34% for drug offenses, and 29% for property offenses.
• 1 in 4 jail inmates in 2002 was in jail for a drug offense, compared to 1 in 10 in 1983; drug offenders constituted 20% of state prison inmates and 55% of federal prison inmates in 2001.
• Black males have a 32% chance of serving time in prison at some point in their lives; Hispanic males have a 17% chance; white males have a 6% chance.

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics.


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