The Effects of Mass Incarceration on Economic Mobility

 In In the News

Let’s start by defining these two words:
Mass incarceration is a term used by historians and sociologists to describe the substantial increase in the number of incarcerated people in the United States’ prisons over the past forty years.
Economic mobility is the ability of an individual, family or some other group to improve (or lower) their economic status—usually measured in income. Economic mobility is often measured by movement between income quintiles.

The United States in the world’s leader in incarceration. There are 2.2 million people in the nation’s prisons and jails — a 500% increase over the last 40 years. Changes in law and policy, not changes in crime rates, explain most of this increase. The results are overcrowding in prisons and fiscal burdens on states, despite increasing evidence that large-scale incarceration is not an effective means of achieving public safety.

Sentencing policies, implicit racial bias, and socioeconomic inequity contribute to racial disparities at every level of the criminal justice system. Today, people of color make up 37% of the U.S. population but 67% of the prison population. Overall, African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Hispanic men are more than twice as likely to be incarcerated as non-Hispanic white men.

Statistics show the following: Of white men born in 2001, 1 in 17 are likely to go to prison. Of black men born in 2001, 1 in 3 are likely to go to prison. Of Latino men born in 2001, 1 in 6 are likely to go to prison.

The problem with our youth today is fatherlessness. This problem is systemic in our inner cities where most of the fathers are either in prison or have a criminal conviction which bars them from getting a job or even proper education. A person sentenced for a drug conviction is not eligible for a Pell Grant to go to college.

So, with the increasing demand for workforce in a growing economy, some folks are being left behind. Sooner or later this is going to catch up with us. We need to do something now before it’s too late. It’s cheaper to train a person to get back into the workforce with a criminal background than it is to incarcerate them. In SC, it cost nearly $20k a year to keep them in prison. The average stay is 4 years per incarcerated person. This is the root of poverty in our inner-city communities. Now we see why children living in Greenville county have a 6% chance of moving out of poverty.

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