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What Are Societal Costs Associated With Mass Incarceration?

By    |   Tuesday, 26 May 2015 04:13 PM

Approximately 1 in 110 adults is behind bars in prison or local jail, and this mass incarceration is forcing politicians across the aisle to advocate for reform.

The effects of mass incarceration can be categorized into social, economic, and criminal outcomes of the current system.

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In 2014, the National Academy of Sciences prepared a nearly-500 page report titled "The Growth of Incarceration in the United States." The report said a major social effect of mass incarceration is the creation of "partial citizens."

The report referred to barriers ex-felons face when they get out, including finding jobs, renewing driver's licenses, and becoming eligible for student loans. Furthermore, the report highlighted the political disenfranchisement of ex-felons as a major effect on society.

Bryan Stevenson, a winner of the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award in social justice, told Smithsonian magazine that mass incarceration today "defines us as a society … the way slavery once did." He cited the fact that one in every three black men in their 20s are currently policed by the criminal justice system in some way.

The Hamilton Project, whose mission statement is to "advance America's promise of opportunity, prosperity, and growth," said in a 2014 report "elevated rates of crime and incarceration directly work against these principles" of economic growth and broad participation.

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Notably, the report cited data that in 2010, $80 billion was spent on corrections at the federal, state, and local levels, a rate that has quadrupled compared in the last 20 years.

A central theory supporting incarceration is that it reduces crime by preventing criminals from repeating their actions, as well as deterring others from potential criminal behavior. However, data proves harder to interpret, and drawing conclusions is complicated.

The National Academy of Sciences report argued that incarceration cannot necessarily be looked at as a “policy variable per se; rather, it is the outcome of policies affecting who is sent to prison and for how long.” The report concluded that any deterrent effect found from increased imprisonment “is modest at best.”

The report said that in order for a deterrent effect to fully exist, sanctions require "severity, certainty, and celerity of punishment." It argued that the current system has too much reliance on severity alone.

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Approximately 1 in 110 adults is behind bars in prison or local jail, and this mass incarceration is forcing politicians across the aisle to advocate for reform.
mass, incarceration, voting rights
Tuesday, 26 May 2015 04:13 PM
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