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«This PDF is available from The National Academies Press at The Growth of Incarceration in the United ...»

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The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

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6,000 4,000 2,000 The rising numbers of parole violations contributed to the increase in incarceration rates. The number of parole violators admitted to state prison following new convictions and sentences has remained relatively constant since the early 1990s. The number of technical violators more than doubled from 1990 to 2000. In 2010, the approximately 130,000 people reincarcerated after parole had been revoked for technical violations accounted for about 20 percent of state admissions (Carson and Sabol, 2012, Table 12;

Glaze and Bonczar, 2011, Table 7). These returns accounted for 23 percent of all exits from parole that year (Glaze and Bonczar, 2011, Table 7).

The overall correctional population—including probationers and parolees—has grown substantially since 1972. By 2010, slightly more than 7 million U.S. residents, 1 of every 33 adults, were incarcerated in prison or jail or were being supervised on parole or probation. At the end of 2012, the total was 6.94 million, or 1 of every 35 adults. The rise in incarceration rates should thus be understood as just part of a broad expansion of the criminal justice system into the lives of the U.S. population.

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Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

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Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

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CRIME AND THE DYNAMICS OF THE GROWTH

OF THE PENAL POPULATION

The link between crime and the growth of the penal population is neither immediate nor direct. Incarceration trends do not simply track trends in crime, although trends in crime have clearly been an important part of the context in which incarceration rates have grown.

Research on the population dynamics of incarceration illuminates the link between incarceration and crime and provides a description of how the system has grown. Analysis of population dynamics offers a simple model in which the growth of incarceration has two main causes: the level of crime in society and the policy response to crime (Raphael and Stoll, 2013).

Criminal offending determines the number of people who might be arrested and then serve time in prison, while criminal justice policy determines the likelihood and duration of incarceration for those arrested. As detailed in the following chapter, spreading across the United States and the federal government, the approach to sentencing quickly shifted over the four decades of the incarceration rise. The diffusion of new sentencing policies focused at first on the development of sentencing guidelines and determinate sentencing policies, and more recently included initiatives designed to increase the certainty and severity of prison sentences. In the first phase, primarily from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, a wave of reforms aimed to make sentencing procedures fairer and outcomes more predictable and consistent. In the second phase, from the mid-1980s through 1996, changes in sentencing policy were aimed primarily at making sentences for drug and violent crimes harsher and their imposition more certain. The principal mechanisms to these ends were mandatory minimum sentences, “three strikes” laws, laws labeled “truth-in-sentencing,” and laws mandating life without possibility of parole for certain offenses. Since the mid-1990s, no states have created new comprehensive sentencing systems, none has enacted new truth-in-sentencing laws, and only one has enacted a three strikes law. New mandatory minimum sentence laws have been narrowly targeted at such crimes as carjacking, human smuggling, and child pornography.

In the sections that follow, the way these policy changes affected incarceration levels for more than three decades after 1980 is decomposed by stages of the criminal justice process in an effort to quantify, to the extent possible, how the changes in sentencing policy cumulatively contributed to higher levels of incarceration at both the state and federal levels. The analysis, which draws extensively on work by Alfred Blumstein and Allen Beck conducted at the committee’s request, also provides a rough estimate of the extent to which the incarceration increase over the period is attributable to changes in sentencing policy rather than other factors, including changes in crime rates. The following sections decompose the growth in the penal population from 1980 to 2010 into components related to crime, the rate Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

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of arrests per crime, the chances of prison admission per arrest, and the length of time served. Trends in incarceration can be decomposed for specific crime categories and for state and federal prisons separately. (The jail population, about a third of all those incarcerated, has not been analyzed in this way because detailed data on jail admissions are lacking.) Slightly different decompositions have been reported by others (Blumstein and Beck, 1999; Beck and Blumstein, 2012; Raphael and Stoll, 2013; Neal and Armin, 2013). The analyses differ in their details but yield similar results for the three decades since 1980.





In the context of the U.S. prison boom, the main limitation of the decomposition analysis concerns the treatment of drug crimes. Drug crimes (incidents of possession, sale, and manufacture) are not recorded in crime statistics. In any case, the level of drug arrests depends significantly on the level of enforcement efforts. For drug offenses, then, one can see how penal policy has changed, but analysis cannot specify the contribution of drug crime to the drug-related incarceration rate, only to drug arrests. Below we summarize Beck and Blumstein’s (2012) analysis of trends in the state prison population. Their analysis examines trends in crime, arrests admissions, and time served for drug offenses, burglary, aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder.

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4 Care must be taken in interpreting historical trends in crime rates; for example, homicide rates are affected by improvements over time in emergency medical treatment that have reduced deaths from violence; and changing treatment of domestic violence affects counting of simple versus aggravated assault. Various so-called “white collar” offenses contribute in small numbers to the prison population. Exact, consistent counts of such crimes, and therefore of their impact on incarceration levels, are hampered by difficulties of definition and measurement (Barnett, 2000; Hagan, 2010; Simpson, 2011).

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

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2,000 1,000

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Trends in crime measured by the UCR are reported in Figure 2-6. The figure shows trends for three series: for the overall violent crime rate (including assault, murder, rape, and robbery) for 1960 to 2011, the overall property crime rate (including burglary, larceny/theft, and motor vehicle theft) for 1960 to 2011, and the drug arrest rate for 1965 to 2010.

The country experienced a large increase in crime from the early 1960s until the 1980s. From the early 1990s, crime rates began to fall broadly for the following two decades. Property and violent crime show roughly similar trends, although the property crime rate peaked in 1979, while violence continued to rise through the mid-1980s after falling in the first half of the decade. Following the broad trends in crime, the homicide rate—widely thought to be the most accurately measured—began to increase from the 1960s, peaking in 1981. Similar to the property crime rate, the homicide rate fluctuated through the 1980s until peaking again in 1991, just below the 1981 level.

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Linking Crime to the Trend in Imprisonment One can think of the size of the prison population as depending on the level of crime, the probability of arrest given a crime, the probability of a prison admission given an arrest, and the time served in prison. If crime increases but all else is unchanged, then the prison population will increase because a larger number of individuals with a fixed probability of apprehension will yield more arrests. Similarly, if the probability of arrest given a crime goes up, then the prison population also will increase, all else being equal. Increases in the chances of prison admission and time served in prison also increase the prison population when all else is unchanged. Each step in the process of incarceration influences the overall trend, which in turn can be decomposed into the contribution of crime, arrest, prison admission, and time served. Here we summarize the analysis of Blumstein and Beck (1999, 2005) and Beck and Blumstein (2012) for state prison populations, looking separately at trends for drug offenses, burglary, aggravated assault, robbery, and murder for the period 1980 to 2010.

The analysis aims to account for the changes in incarceration rates across the different crime categories. The states’ combined incarceration rates increased across all crime categories (see Figure 2-7). Most striking, however, is the dramatic increase in the incarceration rate for drug-related crimes. In 1980, imprisonment for drug offenses was rare, with a combined state incarceration rate of 15 per 100,000 population. By 2010, the drug incarceration rate had increased nearly 10-fold to 143 per 100,000. Indeed, the rate of incarceration for the single category of drug-related offenses, excluding local jails and federal prisons, by itself exceeds by 50 percent Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

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Trends in Arrests per Crime The first point at which the criminal justice system can affect the incarceration rate is through the likelihood of arrest of someone who has committed a crime. The ratio of arrests to crimes is sometimes interpreted as a measure of policing effectiveness or efficiency. Despite significant changes in police technology and management from 1980 to 2010, the ratio of arrests to crimes for the major crime types handled by states and localities has shown little change (see Figure 2-8). For example, the arrest rate for burglaries remained at about 14 arrests per 100 adult offenses. Arrest rates for rape declined rather steadily after 1984 (dropping from a peak of 44 arrests per 100 adult offenses to 24 per 100 by 2010). Robbery arrest rates were steady until 2000 and then increased slightly from 26 to 31 arrests per 100 reported offenses by 2010. In contrast, the arrest rate for aggravated assault grew until 2000 and then remained flat (around 52 arrests per 100 offenses). Murder is the exception, showing a decline in the arrest rate per crime after 2000: arrests for murder were close to 100 per 100 adult offenses until 1998 and then declined to 80 per 100 after 2000. Overall,

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climbed again to peak in 2006, 162 percent above the 1980 level. The arrest rate fell slightly from this peak, but in 2009 was still more than double the rate in 1980. In 2009, 1.3 million arrests were reported to the UCR for drug use and possession, and another 310,000 arrests were made for the manufacture and sale of drugs (Snyder, 2011).

To foreshadow our later discussion of racial disparity, drug arrest rates, at least since the early 1970s, have always been higher for African Americans than for whites. In the early 1970s, when drug arrest rates were low, blacks were about twice as likely as whites to be arrested for drug crimes. The great growth in drug arrests through the 1980s had a large and disproportionate effect on African Americans. By 1989, arrest rates for blacks had climbed to 1,460 per 100,000, compared with 365 for whites (Western, 2006). Throughout the 1990s, drug arrest rates remained at historically high levels. It might be hypothesized that blacks may be arrested at higher rates for drug crimes because they use drugs at higher rates, but the best available evidence refutes that hypothesis. A long historical trend, dating back to the 1970s, is available from the Monitoring the Future survey of high school seniors. Self-reported drug use among blacks is consistently lower than among whites, a pattern replicated among adults in the National Survey on Drug Abuse. Fewer data are available on drug selling, but self-reports in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1979 and 1997, show a higher level of sales among poor white than poor black youth. In short, the great escalation in drug enforcement that dates from the late 1970s is associated with an increase in the relative arrest rate among African Americans that is unrelated to relative rates of drug use and the limited available evidence on drug dealing.

Prison Admissions per Arrest A second point of criminal justice intervention is the sentencing of those who have been arrested, charged, and convicted. Because national trend data are not readily available for charging and conviction, analysis of imprisonment population dynamics has examined the probability of prison admission given an arrest (Blumstein and Beck, 1999, 2005; Beck and Blumstein, 2012; Raphael and Stoll, 2013). For the major crime types handled at the state level, the probability that arrest would lead to prison rose over the three decades from 1980 to 2010. The number of prison commitments per 100 adult arrests showed a significant and nearly steady increase (see Figure 2-9). For example, the rate of commitment to state prison for murder rose from 41 to 92 per 100 arrests, an increase of more than 120 percent. The percentage changes for three other categories of Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

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