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Ranking the Nation's Most Punitive and Costly States (FOCUS)

| James Austin, Marci Brown

The United States, now with more than 625,000 inmates in prison, has long been recognized as a country that imprisons a large portion of its population. Since 1980, the nation's imprisonment rate has nearly doubled. Presently, over 40 states are under some form of litigation related to crowding or unconstitutional conditions of confinement. As states respond to the pressure of overcrowding, more attention is being paid to comparing states in terms of their use of other forms of control in addition to prisons. States are also concerned with the high costs of these systems. State and federal prison population data, the most obvious means of calculating comparative imprisonment rates, reflect only a single component of a jurisdiction's correctional system and exclude other far reaching forms of incarceration and control, including jails, juvenile facilities, and parole and probation. For these reasons, the domain of prison control must be evaluated in relation to the control exercised by other correctional control systems. If our objective as a nation is to lower crime rates and produce safer communities, these facts argue for a re-examination of a strategy which relies largely on an increasingly expensive and expansive system of punishment and control.