Q&A Friday #107: How Do We Reduce The Number Of People In Prison?


Question: The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world. By a wide margin.

What do you think are the reasons and what kind of solutions do you see to this? Some people might say deporting illegal aliens within our prisons, others might say legalizing drugs, and I just wanted to know your take.

Thanks! — opchromiterok

Answer: As Thomas Sowell is wont to say, “There are no solutions, there are only trade-offs.” So, I’m a little leery of accepting the idea that the incarceration rate is, in and of itself, a problem we have to solve. That’s especially the case because not so long ago, we had much more of a crime problem in this country and putting a lot of people in jail was one of the trade-offs to effectively dealing with that problem.

That being said, if we’re looking for ways to reduce the prison population, I would be opposed to legalizing drugs. The last thing we need at this point is the increased societal deterioration that would cause.

If we did actually secure the border and get a solid system in place to make it hard for illegals to work, that would be a huge difference-maker. Estimates vary, but the Center for Immigration Studies puts the number of illegals who shouldn’t be here in the first place at roughly 17% of our prison population.

The other thing that creates a lot of crime, and a lot of people hate to hear this even though it’s true, is single motherhood. I’m not picking on anybody, I’m not letting men off the hook, and I’m not saying single mothers are bad parents. However, what I am saying, is that the statistics on single parenthood are horrific.

Here is the lottery ticket that single mothers are handing their innocent children by choosing to raise them without fathers: Controlling for socioeconomic status, race, and place of residence, the strongest predictor of whether a person will end up in prison is that he was raised by a single parent. By 1996, 70 percent of inmates in state juvenile detention centers serving long-term sentences were raised by single mothers. Seventy-two percent of juvenile murderers and 60 percent of rapists come from single-mother homes. Seventy percent of teenage births, dropouts, suicides, runaways, juvenile delinquents, and child murderers involve children raised by single mothers. Girls raised without fathers are more sexually promiscuous and more likely to end up divorced. A 1990 study by the Progressive Policy Institute showed that after controlling for single motherhood, the difference between black and white crime rates disappeared.

Various studies have come up with slightly different numbers, but all the figures are grim. According to the Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, children from single-parent families account for 63 percent of all youth suicides, 70 percent of all teenage pregnancies, 71 percent of all adolescent chemical/substance abuse, 80 percent of all prison inmates, and 90 percent of all homeless and runaway children.

A study cited in the Village Voice produced similar numbers. It found that children brought up in single-mother homes ‘are five times more likely to commit suicide, nine times more likely to drop out of high school, 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances, 14 times more likely to commit rape (for the boys), 20 times more likely to end up in prison, and 32 times more likely to run away from home.’ Single motherhood is like a farm team for future criminals and social outcasts.

In other words, anything we can do to strengthen marriage, make divorce tougher, and discourage sex out of wedlock will cut into the crime rate and thus, the incarceration rate. This is one of the reasons that gay marriage is so insane. At a time when marriage is a damaged institution in the country, we’re making it less sacred, less meaningful, and more of a joke, even though the consequences for our society are dire.

These are not simple issues and there are no “easy fixes,” but there are certainly things we could do to reduce the prison population.

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