Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Because you can never be too tough on crime.

Last week, Attorney General Thurbert Baker announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for Governor. The most important part of that story is that Baker is black. Slightly less important, but only slightly, is his involvement in Wilson v. State of Georgia.

Far less important than either of those is his promise "to run a tough-on-crime campaign." It's nevertheless interesting in the context of news of America's record high incarceration rate. From the Pew Center on the States:

For the first time in history more than one in every 100 adults in America are in jail or prison—a fact that significantly impacts state budgets without delivering a clear return on public safety. According to a new report released today by the Pew Center on the States' Public Safety Performance Project, at the start of 2008, 2,319,258 adults were held in American prisons or jails, or one in every 99.1 men and women, according to the study.

Per the report, in the past two years, Georgia's prison population increased by 4.6% to 55,205. It is now the fifth-largest in America, following Texas (171,790), California (171,444), Florida (97,416), and New York (62,620).

But more shocking than the number incarcerated is the incarceration rate: 1,024 of every 100,000 Georgians is in prison. It is the second-highest in America, following Louisiana (1,138 of every 100,000).

So America is more "tough on crime" than it has ever been. Georgia is its second most "tough on crime" state. So how much more "tough on crime" does Baker think Georgia should be?

Specifically, how many Georgians should be in jail? How high should our incarceration rate be? What percentage of our budget should be dedicated to the maintenance of those numbers? Who will Baker tax - or, more likely, what service will he cut - to pay for them?

I doubt Baker will even be asked those questions, and I doubt that he would answer them to my satisfaction if he were. But I do wonder. At what point does being "tough on crime" cease to be merely tough on criminals and become tough on everyone?