According to a new study, more than 1 in 100 adults in the US is now incarcerated, “by far the highest rate of any nation, and more than one-quarter of all convictions come from drug offenses.”
This post originally appeared at Occupy Democrats
By Marcos Da Silva
Research conducted by Pew’s Economic Mobility Project shows that over the past 30 years the United States has experienced explosive growth in its incarcerated population. More than 1 in 100 adults is now behind bars in America, by far the highest rate of any nation, and more than one-quarter of all convictions come from drug offenses.
The direct cost of this imprisonment quadrupled over the past two decades and now tops $50 billion a year. The price of prisons in state and federal budgets represents just a fraction of the overall cost of locking up such a large segment of our society. The consequences are tremendous and far-reaching and include substantial and lifelong damage to the ability of former inmates, their families and their children to earn a living wage, move up the income ladder and pursue the American Dream.
“People who break the law need to be held accountable and pay their debt to society,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States. “But at the same time, the collateral costs of locking up 2.3 million people are piling higher and higher.”
Before being incarcerated more than two-thirds of male inmates were employed and more than half were the primary source of financial support for their children, including more than 120,000 mothers and 1.1 million fathers.
Inadvertent victims of their parents’ crimes, children of inmates weather a host of repercussions, from the emotional and psychological trauma of separation to an increased risk of juvenile delinquency. Disrupted, destabilized and deprived of a wage-earner, families with an incarcerated parent are likely to experience a decline in household income as well as an increased likelihood of poverty.
According to the study, past incarceration reduces subsequent wages by 11 percent, cuts annual employment by nine weeks and reduces yearly earnings by 40 percent, costs that are borne by offenders’ families and communities, reverberating across generations.
Parental income is one of the strongest indicators of one’s own chances for upward economic mobility, with forty-two percent of children who start out in the bottom fifth of the income distribution remaining stuck in the bottom themselves in adulthood.
Right now, 2.7 million children have a parent behind bars—1 in every 28 children has a parent incarcerated, and two-thirds of these children’s parents were incarcerated for non-violent offenses. One in 9 African-American children (11.4 percent), 1 in 28 Hispanic children (3.5 percent) and 1 in 57 white children (1.8 percent) have an incarcerated parent.
Simply stated, incarceration in America is concentrated among African-American men. More than 10 percent of African-American children have an incarcerated father, and 1 percent have an incarcerated mother.
More than one-third (37 percent) of black male dropouts between the ages of 20 and 34 are currently behind bars—three times the rate for whites in the same category – despite being such a small percentage of the overall population.
These alarming statistics should motivate us to work towards solutions that reduce crime, contain spending and enhance the economic prospects of offenders and their families. It’s in the best interest of society as a whole to boost the upward mobility of its citizens, and that means not isolating our prison population and their families but rather actively preventing punitive action from having unnecessary repercussions that roll over into innocent lives.