How many convicted felons are alive in the United States today? This is a question that has plagued me. I can calculate estimates, but estimates are not hard fact. Having said that, one quick estimate using an almanac tells me we’re (very conservatively) at around 68,000,000 (68 Million). Just for context, the United States total population is around 350,000,000 (350 million). That’s a big number of felons. Almost enough that we could say having a felony is socially “normal”.
While we are not quite at the “having a felony is normal” stage we are at the stage where being directly connected to someone with a felony is normal. If for every felon, 2 people are connected and supportive (in some fashion) then now we have even more staggering numbers, 136,000,000 (136 Million) people are connected and supportive to a felon. Add that with the total number of felons alive and now we have 204,000,000 (204 million) people who are now directly involved with the criminal justice system. By the way, that’s the majority, in case you couldn’t tell.
This is important to grasp. We are all impacted by crime. I am, you are, all of us. But, we are all also impacted by criminal rehabilitation as well. I argue that if we emphasized criminal rehabilitation and get more of the public directly involved than we will have less crime overall because the majority of our prisoners in the U.S. are recidivists (those that have committed a crime for a second or more time), which comprises upwards of 65 percent of our overall prisoner population.
Prisoner rehabilitation is everyone’s concern. When someone releasing from prison does not have access to competitively waged employment, it creates a strain on our economy. It is not cheaper to lock them back up. Getting someone employable may be as simple as a college degree, at a community college we’re talking $10,000, at most, as a one time expense. Compare this to the annual cost to house an offender of $20,000 (depending on the state), if someone serves 5 years that just cost you $100,000 and there is only a 30% chance the felon won’t revictimize. Now, compare that to science that says if a felon is gainfully employed and college educated the chances of committing another crime reduce, by a lot, we’re talking 70% or more. It is that dramatic.
The problem is this requires a shift in how prisons operate. It is hard to be a student when you’re treated like a prisoner. It’s hard to act like a college professor when you don’t go to a college campus for work, instead you work at a military-like compound. The students don’t have first names, they are numbers, with last names. It is hard to imagine that type of environment fostering educational growth and achievement. Yet, it is the single-most, scientifically proven, effective tool for reducing crime and our economic impact on the community.
Food for thought.