The US’s exceptionally high rate of incarceration is causing economic damage not only to the people behind bars but to their children and taxpayers as a whole, a new study finds.
The study (PDF) from the Pew Research Center’s Economic Mobility Project, released Tuesday, reports that the US prison population has more than quadrupled since 1980, from 500,000 to 2.3 million, making the US’s incarceration rate the highest in the world, beating former champions like Russia and South Africa.
This means more than one in 100 Americans is in prison, and the cost of prisons to states now exceeds $50 billion per year, or one in every 15 state dollars spent — a figure the study describes as “staggering.”
According to the authors, one in every 28 children in the US has a parent behind bars — up from one in 125 just 25 years ago. This is significant, the study argues, because children of incarcerated parents are much likelier to struggle in life.
A family with an incarcerated parent on average earns 22 percent less the year after the incarceration than it did the year before, the study finds. And children with parents in prison are significantly likelier to be expelled from school than others; 23 percent of students with jailed parents are expelled, compared to 4 percent for the general population.
“Both education and parental income are strong indicators of children’s future economic mobility,” the survey notes. “With millions of prison and jail inmates a year returning to their communities, it is important to identify policies that address the impact of incarceration on the economic mobility of former inmates and their children.”
In all, 2.7 million US children have parents behind bars, and “two-thirds of these children’s parents were incarcerated for non-violent offenses,” the study notes.
Not surprisingly, the statistics show large disparities when broken down by race. Among black children, fully one in nine, or 11.4 percent, have a parent in jail. For Hispanics, the number is one in 28, and for white children it’s one in 57.
The study also finds that the US now has a prison population larger than the 35 largest European countries combined. The incarceration rate in the US is five times that of Great Britain — 753 inmates per 100,000 people, compared to 151 inmates in the UK. Even the British incarceration rate is high compared to some countries: 96 in France and 88 in Germany, for example.
The cost of such a high incarceration rate hasn’t been lost on lawmakers in this era of budget deficits. Over the past few years, numerous states have released prisoners early to reduce incarceration costs. California granted early release to some 1,500 inmates this year, and the state hopes to reduce its prison population by a total of 6,500.
But those early releases have proven controversial, both for political and public safety reasons. The New York Times reported earlier this year:
In February, lawmakers in Oregon temporarily suspended a program they had expanded last year to let prisoners, for good behavior, shorten their sentences (and to save $6 million) after an anticrime group aired radio advertisements portraying the outcomes in alarming tones. “A woman’s asleep in her own apartment,” a narrator said. “Suddenly, she’s attacked by a registered sex offender and convicted burglar.”
In Illinois, Gov. Patrick J. Quinn, a Democrat, described as “a big mistake” an early release program that sent some convicts who had committed violent crimes home from prison in a matter of weeks. Of more than 1,700 prisoners released over three months, more than 50 were soon accused of new violations.
An early release program in Colorado meant to save $19 million has scaled back its ambitions by $14 million after officials found far fewer prisoners than anticipated to be wise release risks. In more than five months, only 264 prisoners were released, though the program was designed to shrink the prison population by 2,600 over two years.
With concern growing about the cost — both economic and social — of incarceration, lawmakers have turned an eye to sentencing reform. But prospects for wholesale changes to sentencing in the US are dim, primarily because of the difficulty of selling “weaker” criminal punishments to a skeptical public.
This year, the Obama administration backed sentencing reform for crack cocaine, reducing the disparity between crack sentences and powder cocaine sentences on the basis that they discriminated along racial lines. But, as law professor Andrea Lyon noted at the Huffington Post, even that reform allowed for large disparities in sentences. “What was a 100 to 1 disparity is now ‘only’ an 18 to 1 disparity,” she writes.
In Missouri, an innovative new law gives judges access to information about incarceration costs before they decide on punishment, as well as access to information on recidivism rates for various crimes. Lawmakers hope it will result in a more consistent application of the law.
Marijuana law reform could also have an impact, by simply reducing the number of crimes for which people can be jailed. Last year alone, there were more than 858,000 arrests in the United States for marijuana. That’s down from a peak of 872,000 in 2007, but still near record highs. More than half of all drug arrests involved marijuana.
Trump declares impeachment ‘dead’ — and demands apology — in late night Twitter outburst
President Donald Trump lashed out on his favorite social media platform late Thursday evening.
Eight minutes before midnight eastern time, Trump unloaded.
Trump wrote, "Democrats must apologize to USA: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said that 'United States Ambassador Gordon Sondland did NOT link financial military assistance to a request for Ukraine to open up an investigation into former V.P. Joe Biden & his son, Hunter Biden. Ambassador Sondland did not tell us, and certainly did not tell me, about a connection between the assistance and the investigation.'”
Trump did not say why he was taking the word of a foreign official over multiple sworn testimonies from members of his own administration.
Pelosi is ‘marrying up the facts and the law’: Ex-prosecutor says ‘bribery’ is a critical indictment of Trump
Speaker Nancy Pelosi was masterful in using the word "bribery" to describe President Donald Trump's actions with Ukraine that are at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, according to a former federal prosecutor.
MSNBC anchor Brian Williams interviewed former Assistant U.S. Attorney Berit Berger on Thursday evening's "The Last Word."
Please expand for us on why it is significant and why is it important to label this bribery," Williams said.
"So I think Nancy Pelosi was very specific in calling this bribery for two reasons," Berger replied.
"The first is that -- unlike quid pro quo -- ribery is something that most people understand, especially people who have children," she said, with a chuckle. "We all sort of have a general understanding of that."
Giuliani henchmen showered Republican with cash — and Trump almost made him ambassador to Ukraine: report
Yet another bombshell report has shed new light on President Donald Trump's suspicious Ukraine policies.
"At the same time that Rudy Giuliani and his now-indicted pals were pushing for President Donald Trump to remove Amb. Marie Yovanovitch from her post in Ukraine, Trump administration officials were eyeing potential contenders to take over her job. One of the people in the mix, according to three sources familiar with the discussions, was Rep. Pete Sessions, a former Congressman who called for Yovanovitch’s firing," The Daily Beast reported Thursday night. "He is also a longtime ally of the former New York Mayor, and is believed to have taken millions of dollars from Giuliani’s indicted cronies."