Too often when Congress passes legislation, they exclude people with violent offenses. This does not work. These reforms leave out too many people, the cost of incarceration is too high, and it’s cruel given all the people we leave out of relief.
We incarcerate too many people for too long a time
- Over incarceration exacerbates the problems of mass incarceration. According to a Pew Charitable Trust study of three states 57 percent of incarcerated people in Michigan, 33 percent in Maryland, and 28 percent in Florida could have been released sooner without a threat to public safety.
- Bureau of Justice Statistics found that criminal behavior peaks at 22 years old and drops precipitously afterwards.
- Recidivism rates decrease as people age according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
- People of color are disproportionally incarcerated. The U.S. population of black people is about 13 percent but their share of the prison population (state and federal) is close to 33 percent. White people are 64 percent of the population but make up just 30 percent of the prison population. Latinos comprise 16 percent of the population while making up 23 percent of the prison population.
Incarceration is psychologically scarring and these scars make reentry difficult
- Long sentences (sentences for violent crimes are often long) are psychologically scaring to incarcerated people. Long prison sentences result in increased levels of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and self-isolation. These can be so extreme that they can cause an “existential death” or a state of emotional unfeeling and complete disassociation from the outside.
- The psychological effects of incarceration also negatively affect the children of the incarcerated. In turn, children with incarcerated parents are more likely to become incarcerated themselves.
Reentry is made more difficult after prolonged sentences
- Re-entry gets more difficult the longer the sentence. Violent offenses usually receive long or overly long sentences. The deprivation from society stemming from incarceration leads to skills that atrophy making adjustment to the outside world more difficult. For example, technological advances that occur while people are serving medium- and long-term sentences can make finding employment more difficult.
Long sentences lead to the incarceration of older people increasing the cost of incarceration
- Older individuals are more expensive to keep incarcerated. However, incarcerated individuals over the age of 50 are the fastest growing incarcerated population. This increase is leading to a financial strain on prisons. Institutions with the highest percentages of aging inmates spent 14 times more per inmate on medication ($684) than those without a concentration of individuals over the age of 50.
Mass incarceration is made up of a labyrinth of barriers and punishments. Reforms should include all people regardless of conviction and legislation should never exclude violent offenses. These exclusions are both cruel and counterproductive.