The U.S. continues to be the world’s leading incarcerator, but a new White House report is calling for reform.
Released last month, the Economic Perspectives on Incarceration and the Criminal Justice System reveals that the U.S. prison system houses 25 percent of the world’s prison population, despite making up only 5 percent of the population. Couple that statistic with the fact that crime rates have actually been declining in the last 30 years, and our country’s incarceration practices are a recipe for disaster.
“…Research has established that the rising incarceration is not principally responsible for the reduction in crime, and that higher levels of imprisonment have occurred despite—not because of—changes in underlying criminal activity,” reads the report, pointing to improved economic conditions and a decline in drug use.
Though crime rates are on the decline, unsurprisingly, arrest rates among Black and Hispanic men are continuously increasing. Combined, those two demographics make up less than one-third of the country, but account for more than half of the prison populations.
Fifty percent of those incarcerated suffer from a mental illness, 33 percent have received a form of public assistance at some point in their life and 10 percent were homeless at some point in the year before they entered prison. When a father is incarcerated, families are 40 percent more likely to be living in poverty, and divorce rates skyrocket. In 2013, 11 states spent more money on incarceration than they did education.
Something has to be done.
“The upsurge in incarceration, together with a growing recognition of the costs of current criminal justice policies, have led many policymakers, researchers and advocates across the political spectrum to conclude that the criminal justice system needs to be comprehensively reformed,” reads the report.
In their research, the study’s authors found that increased prison funding would have a minimal effect on crime and could potentially cause the government to lose money. However, an investment in police hiring could decrease crime rates by an additional 16 percent and have a net societal benefit of up to $38 billion. Similarly, by increasing the minimum wage and thus improving low-income individual’s socioeconomic status, crime could fall by 5 percent and have a net benefit upwards of $17 billion. Based on the research, the Obama administration has vowed to continue to push for and pass legislation that focuses on rehabilitation and criminal justice reform programs.
“The evidence for criminal justice reform is mounting,” reads the report. “…Reconsidering the ways we impose sentences, monetary sanctions and bail payments can make our criminal justice system fairer and smarter.”
WANT MORE FROM ESSENCE? Subscribe to our daily newsletter for the latest in hair, beauty, style and celebrity news.