New Report on U.S. Failed Mass Incarceration Experiment

imgres-1A new study was released last week about mass incarceration and the harm it causes. This study validates CAP’s work over the decades.

How a national spike in incarcerations affects crime, costs and communities, PBS News Hour, May 1, 2014
(And you can listen to the 7:50 minutes interview at this site as well as read the transcript.)

Excerpt from Jeremy Travis, Chair of the group:
“If you go back further in our history, sort of the turmoil of the ’60s and ’70s created an environment in which we became tough on crime, law and order, and we remember that rhetoric. But over time, the growth of our prison population is not tied to crime rates.

“So what are the drivers, if it’s not crime? The drivers are choices that we have made to make long sentences longer and to put people in prison who otherwise wouldn’t have gone to prison, mandatory minimum sentences. So that’s — that evidence gives us great confidence in making recommendations to the states and the federal government that they should review the mandatory minimums, the truth in sentencing statutes that keep people in prison longer, the three strikes and you are out reforms.

“All of these reforms we adopted over the decades have not have any had any significant crime control effect, and we specifically recommend a reexamination of drug enforcement policy. The per capita rate of incarceration for drug offenses has gone up tenfold, while the overall rate has gone up fourfold.

“So we have invested a lot in the drug enforcement policy, and in fact drug prices have come down, when they should have gone up with more enforcement. And drug use has stayed constant. So here is an example of a policy that is not paying the benefits that the public had hoped for.”

Here is the study:

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences (2014)

Paperback, 464 pages | 6 x 9 | 978-0-309-29801-8 | $74.95

Committee on Causes and Consequences of High Rates of Incarceration; Committee on Law and Justice (CLAJ); Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education (DBASSE); National Research Council

After decades of stability from the 1920s to the early 1970s, the rate of imprisonment in the United States more than quadrupled during the last four decades. The U.S. penal population of 2.2 million adults is by far the largest in the world. Just under one-quarter of the world’s prisoners are held in American prisons. The U.S. rate of incarceration, with nearly 1 out of every 100 adults in prison or jail, is 5 to 10 times higher than the rates in Western Europe and other democracies. The U.S. prison population is largely drawn from the most disadvantaged part of the nation’s population: mostly men under age 40, disproportionately minority, and poorly educated. Prisoners often carry additional deficits of drug and alcohol addictions, mental and physical illnesses, and lack of work preparation or experience. The growth of incarceration in the United States during four decades has prompted numerous critiques and a growing body of scientific knowledge about what prompted the rise and what its consequences have been for the people imprisoned, their families and communities, and for U.S. society.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States examines research and analysis of the dramatic rise of incarceration rates and its affects. This study makes the case that the United States has gone far past the point where the numbers of people in prison can be justified by social benefits and has reached a level where these high rates of incarceration themselves constitute a source of injustice and social harm.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States recommends changes in sentencing policy, prison policy, and social policy to reduce the nation’s reliance on incarceration. The report also identifies important research questions that must be answered to provide a firmer basis for policy. The study assesses the evidence and its implications for public policy to inform an extensive and thoughtful public debate about and reconsideration of policies.

Related Article:

It’s Time to End American Exceptionalism When It Comes to Putting Citizens Behind Bars
The U.S. is only 5 % of the world, but has 25 %of the world’s prisoner population.
Ethan Nadelmann, AlterNet, May 1, 2014

“…A groundbreaking  report ( yesterday by the National Research Council, the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences, documents the unprecedented and costly price of U.S. incarceration rates. With less than five percent of the world’s population but nearly 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, the U.S. continues to rank first among nations in both prison and jail population and per capita rates. As the report points out, this unprecedented rate of incarceration is a relatively new phenomenon in U.S. history.  America’s prison population exploded largely as a result of the failed drug war policies of the last 40 years.

“The report, commissioned by the National Institute of Justice and the MacArthur Foundation, documents how the drug war has contributed to the skyrocketing U.S prison population and  the staggering costs associated with mass incarceration. The report points out that U.S. incarceration rates are 5-10 times higher than rates in Western Europe and other major democracies. The report also documents the staggering racial disparities in drug enforcement and incarceration.

“The report calls for a significant reduction in rates of imprisonment and says that the rise in the U.S. prison population is “not serving the country well.” It concludes that in order to significantly lower prison rates, the U.S. should revise its drug enforcement and sentencing laws…”


True peace is not merely the absence of tension;
it is the presence of justice.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.


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