On the hill, experts call for change.
On Oct. 4, Virginia Sen. Jim Webb chaired a Joint Economic Committee hearing to explore the U.S.'s growing correctional population. The committee hosted a panel of five experts who presented startling star·tle
v. star·tled, star·tling, star·tles
1. To cause to make a quick involuntary movement or start.
2. To alarm, frighten, or surprise suddenly. See Synonyms at frighten. statistics and personal vignettes on a range of prominent correctional topics including racial disparities in incarceration Confinement in a jail or prison; imprisonment.
Police officers and other law enforcement officers are authorized by federal, state, and local lawmakers to arrest and confine persons suspected of crimes. The judicial system is authorized to confine persons convicted of crimes. rates and inconsistencies in drug sentencing policy. The panelists advocated for policy change, with suggestions that called for a sweeping reallocation of resources The provision of logistic resources by the military forces of one nation from those deemed "made available" under the terms incorporated in appropriate NATO documents, to the military forces of another nation or nations as directed by the appropriate military authority. to community- and faith-based prevention and reentry reentry n. taking back possession and going into real property which one owns, particularly when a tenant has failed to pay rent or has abandoned the property, or possession has been restored to the owner by judgment in an unlawful detainer lawsuit. programs.
Titled Mass Incarceration in the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. : At What Cost?, the hearing featured testimony that addressed:
* The economic costs of maintaining the correctional system;
* The long-term labor market labor market A place where labor is exchanged for wages; an LM is defined by geography, education and technical expertise, occupation, licensure or certification requirements, and job experience and social costs of mass incarceration;
* Whether incarcerating more people has led to a decrease in crime and an increase in public safety; and
* Policy solutions that can alleviate the burgeoning system while maintaining public safety.
In his opening remarks, Webb set the scene for a discussion that would center on the moral and social consequences resulting from the U.S.'s historically high incarceration rates. "With the world's largest prison population, our prisons test the limits of our democracy and push the boundaries of our moral identity," Webb said. Noting that the U.S. imprisons a higher percentage of its citizens than any other country, Webb reported that: "In the name of getting tough on crime, there are now 2.1 million Americans in federal, state and local prisons and jails--more people than the populations of New Mexico New Mexico, state in the SW United States. At its northwestern corner are the so-called Four Corners, where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah meet at right angles; New Mexico is also bordered by Oklahoma (NE), Texas (E, S), and Mexico (S). , West Virginia West Virginia, E central state of the United States. It is bordered by Pennsylvania and Maryland (N), Virginia (E and S), and Kentucky and, across the Ohio R., Ohio (W). Facts and Figures
Area, 24,181 sq mi (62,629 sq km). Pop. or several other states." He touched on how changes in criminal justice policy have led to racial disparity in incarceration rates and explained how tougher sentencing laws see more people imprisoned im·pris·on
tr.v. im·pris·oned, im·pris·on·ing, im·pris·ons
To put in or as if in prison; confine.
[Middle English emprisonen, from Old French emprisoner : en- for nonviolent offenses (like parole violations and drug offenses) than ever before. Congress has passed laws, Webb said, that have created additional barriers to reentry. Some of these "invisible punishments" make offenders ineligible for certain government benefits, such as housing, public assistance and student loans, making it impossible for ex-offenders to pay their debt to society, he said. Webb went on to question how our incarceration rates were shaping the way other nations perceive us, quoting an observation made by Winston Churchill in 1910: "The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilization of any country."
Addressing the panel of witnesses, Webb asked, "Are there ways to spend less money, enhance public safety and make a fairer prison system?" First to speak was Glenn Loury, a professor in the Department of Economics at Brown University. He touched on the strict sentencing and invisible punishment policies that Webb spoke of, calling their implication "an historic expansion of coercive state power." As a result of these policies, "the American prison system has grown into a leviathan leviathan (lēvī`əthən), in the Bible, aquatic monster, presumably the crocodile, the whale, or a dragon. It was a symbol of evil to be ultimately defeated by the power of good. unmatched in human history ... And, it is costing us a veritable fortune," Loury lou·ry
Variant of lowery. said. He presented data that showed U.S. correctional systems increased their expenditure 582 percent between 1982 and 2004. He argued that the mass incarceration policy has become counterproductive--"a sociologically naive and morally superficial view of how to deal with social problems."
The remainder of Loury's testimony dealt with statistics concerning the U.S.'s racially disparate incarceration rates and how those rates are affecting individual offenders, their families and society. He explained how blacks and Hispanics together account for about one-quarter of the overall national population but constitute two-thirds of state and federal prison populations. "The extent of racial disparity in imprisonment Imprisonment
See also Isolation.
former federal maximum security penitentiary, near San Francisco; “escapeproof.” [Am. Hist.: Flexner, 218]
German prison ship in World War II. [Br. Hist. rates is greater than in any other major arena of American social life. At eight-to-one, the black-white ratio of incarceration dwarfs the two-to-one ratio of unemployment rates, three-to-one nonmarital childbearing ratio, the two-to-one black-white ratio of infant mortality rates infant mortality rate
The ratio of the number of deaths in the first year of life to the number of live births occurring in the same population during the same period of time. and the one-to-five ratio of net worth."
Loury next presented data that made a shocking statement about the ways tougher sentencing policies were affecting the black male population. Black males with no high school diploma A high school diploma is a diploma awarded for the completion of high school. In the United States and Canada, it is considered the minimum education required for government jobs and higher education. An equivalent is the GED. born 1945 to 1949 had a 17.1 percent risk of imprisonment; black males born 10 years later (1965 to 1969) saw their risk jump to 58.9 percent. White males of the latter group's age and education level were incarcerated incarcerated /in·car·cer·at·ed/ (in-kahr´ser-at?ed) imprisoned; constricted; subjected to incarceration.
Confined or trapped, as a hernia. at a rate of 11.2 percent. Loury went on to compare statistics on wage earnings, annual employment and annual earnings for blacks before and after imprisonment. He concluded his remarks with observations from Queens College sociologist Harry Levine, whose research points to the racially discriminatory enforcement of anti-drug statutes in New York City New York City: see New York, city.
New York City
City (pop., 2000: 8,008,278), southeastern New York, at the mouth of the Hudson River. The largest city in the U.S. . "U.S. government statistics have consistently found that white teenagers and young adults use marijuana as much, or more, than blacks and Hispanics do. Nonetheless, in 2006 in New York City, the per capita [Latin, By the heads or polls.] A term used in the Descent and Distribution of the estate of one who dies without a will. It means to share and share alike according to the number of individuals. arrest rate of blacks was nearly eight times the rate of whites," Loury said.
Also speaking was Bruce Western of Harvard University, a professor and the director of the Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy at the Kennedy School of Government. Like Loury, Western spoke of the disproportionate impact tough sentencing policy has had on the black community. He outlined the effect incarceration has on an offenders' labor market experiences. "Criminal stigma has a legal dimension," Western said. "Those with criminal records are barred from employment in certain industries and occupations."
Western called for Congress to enact re-integration and rehabilitation policy legislation to help alleviate the social and economic effects of incarceration. He called for a re-examination of government-sanctioned "collateral consequences" that serve to limit ex-offenders' access to employment and federal benefits such as welfare. Post-prison employment would be encouraged by passage of the Second Chance Act of 2007, Western said, which would allocate money toward prisoner reentry programs that provide transitional employment and other services. Finally, Congress should support the establishment of criminal justice social-impact panels in local jurisdictions, Western said, to evaluate unwarranted disparities in juvenile and adult incarceration.
Presenting testimony next was Alphonso Albert, director of Second Chances, a program run out of Norfolk, Va., designed to provide comprehensive support services support services Psychology Non-health care-related ancillary services–eg, transportation, financial aid, support groups, homemaker services, respite services, and other services that lead to full-time employment and social stability for ex-offenders. His testimony was based on his experiences with the offender population and the accomplishments of Second Chances. During the past eight years, Second Chances has served more than 1,200 offenders and provided more than 900 jobs at an average wage of $9 per hour, Albert reported. Additionally, Second Chances has implemented programs to serve children of incarcerated parents; opened a housing initiative to provide housing for homeless offenders upon their return; and started three business enterprises that hire program participants at a minimum of $8 per hour.
Albert then addressed the "collateral cost" of imprisonment--a very different form of collateral than Western referenced. Albert referred to collateral cost in terms of how offenders' imprisonment affects their families. He said the reason children of offenders are likely to become offenders themselves is because "the same conditions that existed for the adult will exist for the child unless there is some intervening factors."
Michael P. Jacobson, director of the Vera Institute of Justice The Vera Institute of Justice is a non-governmental criminal justice research and policy organization, based in New York City. The Vera Institute of Justice was founded in 1961, by philanthropist Louis Schweitzer and Herb Sturz. and author of Downsizing (1) Converting mainframe and mini-based systems to client/server LANs.
(2) To reduce equipment and associated costs by switching to a less-expensive system.
(jargon) downsizing Prisons: How to Reduce Crime and End Mass Incarceration, spoke from personal experience, having served as New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of City's correction commissioner, probation commissioner and deputy budget director. First, Jacobson addressed government spending on corrections. "The rate of growth of spending on correction in state budgets exceeds that for education, health care, social services, transportation and environmental protection," Jacobson said. He drew a comparison between the amount of money we spend on prisons and the amount of money, or lack thereof, that is available for other essential areas of government. "In many states ... one can literally see money move in the budget from primary and secondary education to prisons." The result, Jacobson said, is money being diverted from programs that would increase public safety into a corrections system that, he argued, has become increasingly ineffective. "At this point, putting greater numbers of people into prison as a way to achieve more public safety is one of the least effective ways we know to decrease crime."
Jacobson thus calls for Congress to reinvest corrections money in ways he argues will not only make the system more efficient and effective but also more safe. "If we were serious about using our limited resources most effectively in reducing crime ... we would begin to responsibly and systematically transfer some of the resources now used to imprison im·pris·on
tr.v. im·pris·oned, im·pris·on·ing, im·pris·ons
To put in or as if in prison; confine.
[Middle English emprisonen, from Old French emprisoner : en- people to community-based prevention, reentry and capacity building," he said.
Last to speak was Pat Nolan, a former Republican leader in the California State Assembly The California State Assembly is the lower house of the California State Legislature. There are 80 members to the Assembly, representing a relatively equal amount of constituencies, with each district having a population of at least 420,000 citizens. with a tough on crime agenda who reformed his corrections philosophy after serving 29 months in federal custody on racketeering Traditionally, obtaining or extorting money illegally or carrying on illegal business activities, usually by Organized Crime . A pattern of illegal activity carried out as part of an enterprise that is owned or controlled by those who are engaged in the illegal activity. charges. He informed the committee that he "made the mistake of thinking that locking people up made our communities safer." Only after serving time in prison did Nolan realize that "locking so many of our people in prison while doing nothing to prepare them for their release is very dangerous." Nolan is now vice-president of Prison Fellowship, a nonprofit organization Nonprofit Organization
An association that is given tax-free status. Donations to a non-profit organization are often tax deductible as well.
Examples of non-profit organizations are charities, hospitals and schools. that works with government officials at the federal and state levels to develop policies that aid in offender rehabilitation.
Nolan called for nonviolent offenders to serve their sentences in the community under strict supervision programs. "Prisons are for people we are afraid of, but our sentencing laws have filled them with people we are merely angry at." Nolan touted the work of faith-based programs for their ability to rehabilitate offenders' immoral tendencies. "At its root, crime is a moral problem," said Nolan. "Job training and education alone won't transform an inmate from a criminal into a law-abiding citizen." For some, he argued, such training only makes them smarter criminals. "It is a changed heart that can transform a prisoner," he said.
Webb closed the hearing by acknowledging that while it will take years of energy to address the problems outlined by the panel, he is committed to "working on a solution that is both responsive to our needs for law and order, and fairer to those ensnared" by the system.
Lia Gormsen is assistant editor of Corrections Today.