Wednesday, February 20

The collateral costs of high incarceration rates

One in every 28 children in America has a parent behind bars, up from 1 in 125 twenty-five years ago. The United States has the world's highest incarceration rate, and it's likely that many inmates are being held in prison much longer than they should. From a 2010 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts:
  • Before being incarcerated, two-thirds of male inmates were employed and more than half were the primary source of financial support for their children. 
  • After release, former male inmates work nine fewer weeks annually and take home 40 percent less in annual earnings, making $23,500 instead of $39,100. That amounts to an expected earnings loss of nearly $179,000 through age 48 for men who have been incarcerated.
  • Of former inmates who were in the bottom of the earnings distribution in 1986, two-thirds remained there in 2006, twice the number of non-incarcerated men.
No one is suggesting that leniency is necessary for all criminals of all types. But given the expense of incarceration, and the seemingly increasing rate of it, even for small crimes, it's apparent that something in the justice system is broken.