Maybe we aren’t incarcerating too many people

It’s interesting to read this article by the Brookings Institute from 1996.

“Lawrence Greenfeld of the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics has shown conclusively that fully 94 percent of state prisoners had either committed one or more violent crimes (62 percent) or been convicted more than once in the past for nonviolent crimes (32 percent). Comparable national data stretching back to the 1970s make plain that over 90 percent of prisoners are violent or repeat criminals.”

Imagine seeing an article like this today: “The Numbers Don’t Lie: It’s the Hard Core Doing Hard Time.”

You won’t see that much today.

You’ll hear often the mantra that authors such as Michelle Alexander writes: “End the war on drugs.”

We’ll hear that we incarcerate too many people, that most of the people in our jails have minor drug charges, or that we’ve been overly strict with our judicial system.

We’ll also hear that the entire judicial system is wrong.

We’ll also see a broad array of numbers and statistics to “prove” these points.

But the data and statistics from this older Brookings Institute article show that the majority of convictions and of those incarcerated were from violent crimes or repeat offenders.

The data and statistics haven’t changed that much in the last 25 years. Today we are told that we were overly strict and harsh on offenders in the 1990s. Today we are being told that it’s axiomatic that we are too strict on incarceration. We’re being told that the incarceration is high because of minor drug offenses. Suddenly we’re being presented some alternate statistics constantly telling us that incarceration is too high, and we are almost never seeing data like this. What happened to this data? Are they no longer valid? Were the statistics wrong?

We rarely see reports or data produced today revealing what the Brookings Institute showed back in 1996. We often see headlines of employers who turn down a candidate due to a minor drug charge.

Working in the recruiting and staffing industry, I’ve worked with tons of companies, and no one cares if someone had a marijuana conviction here or there. They care of someone has repeat offenses or if they have violent convictions. To be fair, I work with one of the industries (manufacturing) that is most lenient about background checks.

Someone applying for a professional or office position is going to have much more competition for that position than someone applying to a position with an industry that desperately needs workers.

So I’m sure someone has lost some employment opportunity due to a minor drug convition.

But I’m not sure if it’s the pervasive problem that we’re being told it is.

I think that somehow our priorities as a society have changed since the 1990s.

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