Thursday, September 22, 2016

Tallying up the cost of mass incarceration

Carimah Townes just wrote a very interesting short piece in Think Progress about the true cost of mass incarceration. While we spend $80 billion a year on mass incarceration at the federal, state and local levels, the true cost of mass incarceration is likely closer to $1 trillion.

A study conducted by Washington University looked at all of the hidden costs of mass incarceration. Reformers don't even begin to take into account lost wages and lost long-term earnings. They don't take into account the costs borne by the families of the incarcerated in travel expense, missed work and money sent for commissary accounts.

Then we have social welfare costs for the families left behind. Since modern prisons do a good job of teaching inmates how to commit crime when they get out we have the cost of former inmates getting back in trouble. Finally, a child who has a parent in prison is more likely to find himself following the same path.

“We find that for every dollar in corrections costs, incarceration generates an additional $10 in social costs. More than half of the costs are borne by families, children and community members who have committed no crime.” -- Carrie Pettus-Davis, researcher

We have used mass incarceration as a tool of social control. We have used it as a tool for removing black folks from society. It is time to do away with it.

Hillary Clinton was the head cheerleader when her husband pushed his crime bill that accelerated the process of mass incarceration. That is a legacy she cannot escape from. Donald Trump is a champion of mass incarceration as well.

It is high time we choose a different path. It is time that we decriminalize drug addiction. It is time we stop locking up folks for non-violent crimes. It is time to reform our bail system.

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