[Ppnews] Incarceration nation: 1 in 31 U.S. adults now in criminal justice system

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Mar 2 12:13:43 EST 2009



Incarceration nation: 1 in 31 U.S. adults now in criminal justice system

March 2, 2009

The U.S. criminal justice system is tapping out 
state budgets while failing to make the public 
safe, but most people don’t care until it affects 
them directly. If the numbers keep growing, it 
won’t be long before practically everyone is. A 
study released today by the Pew Center on the 
States shows that 7.3 million people ­ 1 in 31 
U.S. adults ­ are now locked up or on parole or 
probation. In Michigan, it’s one in 27 people. In 
one neighborhood on Detroit’s east side, one in 
seven adult men is in the system.

Our policies on crime and punishment aren't 
working and we can no longer afford them. Over 
the past two decades, state general fund spending 
on corrections has more than tripled to $68 
billion a year. That means a lot less money for 
education, health care and other essential 
government services. Michigan spends $2 billion a 
year on corrections ­ more than it spends on higher education.

Despite this investment, recidivism and crimes 
rates have not gone down. My own feeling is that 
mass incarceration has increased crime by 
disrupting families, neighborhoods and social 
networks. In Michigan today, one in six adults 
has a felony on his or her record. One in 14 
African American children has an incarcerated 
parent, making it seven times more likely that they, too, will go to prison.

What people forget is that nearly everyone sent 
to prison will get out. Roughly 600,000 people a 
year leave prison or jail and return to their 
communities, many of them unable to find work. 
Mass incarceration has made prison a norm in 
certain neighborhoods. My brother-in-law, who’s 
34 and grew up on Detroit’s east side, told me 
once that every male peer he knew coming up went 
to prison or jail. For many young men, going to 
prison has become almost an expectation, a rite of passage.

The Pew report also notes that it costs, on 
average, 22 times more to supervise offenders in 
community programs like probation and parole than 
it does to lock them up. Diverting more 
lower-risk, non-violent offenders to community 
programs makes dollars and sense. It would lower 
corrections costs and enable states to spend more 
on education and other government services.

We need to find a better way. It’s troubling and 
puzzling that many of the same people who attack 
government inefficiency give our costly and 
ineffective criminal justice system a pass by 
pushing for more of the same. Online at 

Freedom Archives
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