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The title statistic alone is jaw-dropping, representing a historic high (or new low, depending on how you look at it) when it comes to American justice.

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While public shock and dismay over the criminal justice system is a good thing, policy reform usually only comes once those in power recognize public support for measures otherwise considered too politically risky.

(Iraq war notwithstanding.) Indeed, a significant part of the Pew study (which was written mainly with politicians in mind) is devoted to showing that policy makers are starting to come around on the prison issue, increasingly talking about being "smart" rather than "tough" on crime. "There's a shift away from the mindset of lock them up and throw away the key," one Ohio Republican legislator is quoted as saying.

On one hand, people are starting to realize that bloated prison systems are a resource suck on an already troubled economy.

On the other hand, many people -- even in that liberal bastion, California -- cling to the misguided idea that locking up large numbers of lawbreakers will keep the public safer.

What's more, the dollars and sense tone so many strike when espousing the benefits of prison reform leaves out a major factor -- a veritable elephant in the room when it comes to the prison boom: the powerful incentives that continue to keep the prison population high.

From construction to prison security to healthcare, prisons are an industry -- and a highly lucrative one at that.Warehousing massive populations of men and women is, on its face, bad public policy.For politicians to be just waking up to this maddening reality seems dubious."It's always been safer politically to build the next prison, rather than stop and see whether that's really the smartest thing to do," the Houston-based chair of the Texas senate's criminal justice committee said."But we're at the point where I don't think we can afford to do that anymore."Financially, this is certainly true.Politically, Texas lawmakers will likely face serious challenges when it comes to implementing these reforms.

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