When Ted Conover guarded Sing Sing over a decade ago, the total population of New York's sprawling prison system was over 70,000. In an early chapter of his book Newjack, Conover cites this figure and notes the six-fold increase from the 12,5000 that the system held 25 years before.
Data from the Bureau of Justice statistics confirms the figure of 70,000. According to the BJS, New York State's prison population was 70,199 at the end of 2000, the year Conover's book was published.
What is it today? Though year-end figures are not yet available for 2010, BJS counted 58,687 prisoners at the end of 2009. So the total has gone down since Conover's time, by an average of about two percent per year. The figure remains quite high, however, in historical terms, at over four times what it was in the 1970s.
Could it be that our society is turning the Titanic around? Several states are feverishly trying to do just that before the oceans of red ink wash over them.