For the first time in history, more than one in every 100 American adults is in jail or prison. To be exact, this is one out of every 99.1 adults, and more than any other country in the world. Even worse, 1 out of every 56 men over 18 years old is behind bars. The report was released last week by the Pew Center on the States.
The 50 states spent more than $49 billion on corrections last year, up from less than $11 billion 20 years earlier. The rate of increase for prison costs was six times greater than for higher education spending, the report said.
At a time when businesses are clamoring for skilled workers, tax dollars and community resources are being diverted to house prisoners and build more and larger facilities. In what appears to be a vicious cycle spiraling out of control, the rate of high school dropouts in many schools exceeds 30%. It is so bad in some schools that they have been labeled as “dropout factories.” Dropouts have the greatest likelihood of spending time behind bars. In effect, we build more prisons to house the ex-students who dropped out instead of addressing one of the root causes of the problem in the first place.
And in the meantime, this is just one more reason why the U.S. will experience the full effect of the Perfect Labor Storm – with not enough workers to fill all the skilled jobs, we can hardly afford to have 10% of the working population behind bars.