On Commondreams.org Sarah Lazare shares the dire impact of four decades of massive imprisonments in the United States. This report by the National Research Council (an arm of the National Academy of Sciences) was commissioned by the National Institute of Justice and the MacArthur Foundation. Here are some of the findings after two years of data review:
- 2.23 million people are currently locked up in U.S. jails and prisons but that number increases drastically when people on parole or probation are also counted.
- Incarceration has quadrupled in four decades — not as a result of an increase in violence but due to the politically-motivated imposition of "mandatory minimums" in the 1980s, longer sentences for repeat convictions, and increased criminalization of drug offences as part of the War on Drugs.
- The U.S. prison population is largely drawn from the most disadvantaged part of the nation's population: mostly men under age 40, disproportionally minority, and poorly educated. Sixty percent of incarcerated people are people of color.
- Imprisoned people face drug and alcohol addictions, mental and physical illnesses, and lack of work preparation or experience.
- High incarceration rates are financially costly for society at large and spread trauma and poverty through communities of color. "Prisons are part of a poverty trap with many paths leading in, but few leading out."
The committee made a series of policy recommendations aimed at decreasing incarceration rates, improving prison conditions, and expanding programs. In a response to the report, Isaac Ontiveros of Critical Resistance told Common Dreams: "We can now read UN reports about genocide in another country, and do that at arm's length, but now we have even fairly conservative institutions like the National Research Council pointing out the systematic state violence in the U.S. that uses courts, police, the prison system, cultural institutions, and media to target and unleash incredible amounts of violence against certain groups of people."