Why does the United States have the highest incarceration rate in the world? Is there something inherently wrong with Americans (we’re just bad people?) or is there something wrong with the criminal justice system? A report from the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2017, tries to help us answer those question by looking at who we lock up and why. For those who care about individual liberty and the growing cost of government, their report offers some shocking findings.
According to the PPI Report, the American criminal justice system holds more than 2.3 million prisoners. In addition to those prisoners, there are another 840,000 people on parole (a type of conditional release from prison) and 3.7 million people on probation. One in five incarcerated people are locked up for a drug offense. Similarly, most incarcerated youth are locked up for nonviolent offenses, almost 20-percent of those for “technical violations,” of their probation rather than for anew offense.
The authors point out that those numbers only tell part of the story, because they do not capture the enormous churn in and out of our correctional facilities and the far larger universe of people whose lives are affected by the criminal justice system. People go to jail over 11 million times each year. Jail churn is particularly high because most people in jails have not been convicted. Some have just been arrested and will make bail in the next few hours or days, and others are too poor to make bail and must remain behind bars until their trial. Only a small number (187,000 on any given day) have been convicted, generally serving misdemeanors sentences under a year.
The authors raise some interesting conclusions:
“Looking at the big picture requires us to ask if it really makes sense to lock up 2.3 million people on any given day, giving this nation the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world. Both policymakers and the public have the responsibility to carefully consider each individual slice in turn to ask whether legitimate social goals are served by putting each category behind bars, and whether any benefit really outweighs the social and fiscal costs.”
“The States’ practice of arresting people for drug possession destabilizes individual lives and communities. Drug arrests give residents of over-policed communities criminal records, which then reduce employment prospects and increase the likelihood of longer sentences for any future offenses.” Although “ending the War on Drugs will not alone end mass incarceration, … the federal government and some states have effectively reduced their incarcerated populations by turning to drug policy reform.”
If you or a family member or friend has been charged with a crime or is coming up for review by the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole, contact the knowledgeable and caring attorneys of McKenzie Law Offices. We want to help.