Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Crime, Jail and Justice

A bit of time has passed since it was revealed that Tom Green County has the 11th highest jail incarceration rate in Texas. For some perspective, the U.S.A. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. If you look at the numbers for Texas, you see that the states incarceration rate is 34.87% above the national average. It might be justifiable if it was reducing crime but the Texas crime rate is 23.41% higher than the national average.

There are some good sites out there with information on incarceration and jail overcrowding, and you can spend lots of hours reading and analyzing. A quick glance at this guide will help show that overcrowding is caused by the entire local justice system. It's not just the police or judges or lawyers.

At it's simplest, jail population is determined by two factors, the number of people admitted to the jail, and the length of their stay. Increase either one too far, and you have over crowding.

The quick response is "don't we need to be tough on crime?" As this report, among others, points out "Increasing incarceration while ignoring more effective approaches will impose a heavy burden upon courts, corrections and communities, while providing a marginal impact on crime." Incarceration should be a last resort, not a first.

We need to have a better educated poplulation. Education seems to be one of the most effective vaccinations against crime. Effective crime prevention needs to be a high priority. We also need programs that cut back on repeat offenders and recidivism. When we have more people incarcerated than China, a "repressive" country 6 times our size, it is time for us to take a step back and take a serious look at what we are doing.

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