University Study Shows How Prison Populations Skyrocket — Despite Record Low Crime

From Claire Bernish:


The justice system’s aversion to repeat offenders — not a rise in actual crime — feeds the prison-industrial complex, a new study has essentially found, as a record number of people receiving prison sentences have prior convictions.

Ohio State University sociologist Ryan King examined 33 years of data from the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission — around 355,000 felony convictions — and found despite the sharp decline in the crime rate since the mid-1990s, judges are often faced with repeat-offenders, whom they tend to sentence more harshly.

“The issue is that the average offender who appears before a judge for sentencing today has a much more extensive criminal record than they did in the past,” noted King, a professor of sociology at OSU.

“It is much harder for judges not to give prison sentences to repeat offenders, so we have more convicted people going to prison.”

In comparing the more than three decades of data, King found the average offender in 1981 had just one prior felony, but in ten years, prior felonies doubled to two — and by 2013, the average offender had 2.5 previous felonies.

In fact, the rate at which prior offenders received prison sentences increased over time, as well, the study found. In 1981, 15 percent of prior offenders received a prison sentence, but that increased to 20 percent by 1995, and staggeringly had reached nearly 30 percent in 2013.

Fewer than 40 percent of offenders sentenced to prison had criminal records in 1981, but 60 percent did just two decades later.

“Criminal activity can decrease, but the criminal record only goes up,” said King. “Judges are dealing with more repeat offenders now.”

Notably, data did not evidence harsher sentencing for repeat offenders over time — in fact, King observed increasing leniency by judges toward those with prior records. …

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