Incarceration’s Impact on Society is Shameful

Bob Ray Sanders
McCatchy News

You won’t need a calculator, but get ready to decipher a bunch of numbers — data that ought to make Americans feel both sadness and shame.

For those of us who’ve kept up with our criminal justice system the past three decades, these numbers I’m about to share are neither surprising nor shocking, but they do paint a startling picture of the impact our high incarceration rate is having on individuals, families and our society as a whole.

In a report issued last week by the Pew Charitable Trusts, researchers document the scale of incarceration in the United States and its direct effect on the earning power of former inmates and their children.

Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility, a collaborative effort between Pew’s Economic Mobility Project and its Public Safety Performance Project, also breaks down the impact imprisonment has on those of different races. Again, while that news isn’t amazing unto itself, it should sound an alarm that will awaken us from our deep sleep of complacency.

The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with 2.3 million Americans behind bars, a 300 percent increase since 1980, the report states. This country has more inmates than the top 35 European countries combined.

While the costs of housing prisoners — $50 billion annually for state correctional costs alone — should be enough to cause us to rethink our way of doing things, the overall societal and human costs should be even more convincing.

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