The statistics are stark, but by now familiar: the United States has less than 5% of the world’s people, yet accounts for 25% of the world’s prisoners; the incarceration rate in the United States is seven times higher than the rate in Western Europe; more than 1 in 100 adults are behind bars today.
This extraordinary level of imprisonment is an embarrassment for the nation as a whole, but the concentrated, mass incarceration of African Americans also has serious public safety consequences for those who live in the communities most disproportionately affected by imprisonment.
The rate of incarceration for African Americans has always been higher than the national average. The steady climb in the rate of incarceration for young black men over the last 30 years has resulted in such a concentration of imprisonment in low-income African-American communities that sending those who commit crimes to prison now does more harm than good in those neighborhoods. Researchers confirm that the cumulative effects of mass incarceration – broken families, weakened social bonds, distrust of police, and compromised economic opportunities – have reached a tipping point, resulting in an increase rather than a decrease in crime in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Public safety also suffers when the financial costs of supporting such a high level of incarceration compromises the ability of local communities to provide a safety net for its most vulnerable residents. We spend nearly $50 billion a year operating prisons, money that could be put to better use strengthening mental health treatment networks, drug treatment programs, and support for parents of at-risk children. SCHR supports innovative projects like the Alabama Women’s Resource Network in their attempt to redirect the money being spent on corrections to community-based supports that keep people out of prison in the first place.