10 Eye-Opening Facts About Criminal Justice

1) Mass Incarceration: There are currently over 2 million people incarcerated in the U.S., and an additional 5 million under correctional supervision (on probation or parole). The U.S. confines a greater percentage of its population than any other country in the world. This means that 1 in every 20 Americans will spend time behind bars. Bureau of Justice Statistics Report (2004), Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear, 2003.

2) Race: People of color are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. Applying 1996 incarceration rates, the lifetime chances of spending time behind bars is 1 in 4 for African-American males; 1 in 6 for Latino males; and 1 in 23 for white males. Almost 87% of women in New York prisons or jails for drug offenses in 2004 were African-American or Latina–though they make up only 29% of the State’s population. BJS Report, Lifetime Likelihood of Going to State or Federal Prison, 2003; Women in Prison Project (March, 2004), “Women Prisoners and Substance Abuse Fact Sheet.” .

3) Poverty: The majority of people in prison are poor-60% of women and 40% of men in U.S. State prisons were unemployed before their arrest. Of those who had a source of income, 37% of women and 28% of men earned less than $600 in the month before their arrest. Eighty percent of people accused of crimes are unable to afford a lawyer to defend them. Galbraith (2004), “So Tell Me Why Do Women Need Something Different?” in Criminal Justice…; Bright (2003), “The Accused Get What the System Doesn’t Pay For,” in Prison Nation..

4) Gender: The rates of incarceration for women in New York State increased by about 500% between 1974 and 2004 (more than double the rate of increase for men). The lifetime chances of going to prison are six times as high for African-American women as for white women. Nearly the entire (91%) increase in women sentenced to prison between 1986-1995 resulted from drug offenses. Women are more likely than men to be incarcerated for non-violent drug or property-related crimes. BJS Report (2003), Lifetime Likelihood of Going to State or Federal Prison.; Women in Prison Project (March, 2004), “Women Prisoners and Substance Abuse Fact Sheet.”.

5) Drugs: A 1997 survey of State prison inmates revealed that a third committed their offense while under the influence of drugs. In 2002,over 80% of New York’s women prisoners reported having a substance abuse problem prior to their arrest. In 1997, only 1 in 10 State prisoners reported receiving treatment while “inside.” Enacted in 1973, New York’s Rockefeller Drug Laws-though recently reformed-continue to be the harshest, most punitive drug laws in the country, taking away a judge’s discretion, and imposing long sentences. Treatment is a more effective and less costly approach to drug addiction than incarceration: one year in prison costs $32,000; one year of residential treatment costs $17-21,000. BJS Report, Substance Abuse and Treatment in State and Federal Prisons, January, 1999; Women in Prison Project (March, 2004), “Women Prisoners and Substance Abuse Fact Sheet.”.

6) Families: Most people who are incarcerated are parents–75% of incarcerated women are mothers; 66% of incarcerated men are fathers. Ten million children in the U.S. have a parent who is currently or was recently under some form of criminal justice supervision (incarcerated, or on probation, or parole). Over 60% of parents in State prisons are incarcerated over 100 miles from their last residence, and half of all incarcerated parents do not receive visits with their children. High rates of incarceration serve to further weaken the financial and social infrastructure of poor and low-income families of color. Travis & Maul (2004), Prisoners Once Removed. ; BJS Report, Incarcerated Parents and Their Children. August, 2003.

7) Youth & Juvenile Justice: In 2003, 112,000 young people were in juvenile institutions nationwide, mostly for property offenses. While youth of color make up 32% of U.S. juvenile population, they constitute 58% of youth in juvenile facilities. Each year thousands of youth are also held in adult correctional facilities (21,130 youth in 2000). Youth held in adult facilities are 8 times more likely to commit suicide, 5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted, and 50 times more likely to be attacked with a weapon than youth in juvenile facilities. In 2001,the average annual cost for one youth in secure detention was $130,670; one year in a New York City public school costs $9,739 and one year of college costs between $4,500-$25,000. In 1998, an estimated $3 billion was spent nationally on juvenile offender services-enough to send 120,000 youth to the Nation’s top private colleges, or 600,000 youth to City- or State-funded colleges. Children’s Defense Fund website: www.childrensdefense.org

8) Displaced Resources: The U.S. Census counts prisoners as part of a prison county’s population–rather than as residents of the communities they originated from. Federal resources and political representation are granted based on population, so this practice displaces needed resources and political representation away from already struggling communities to the mostly rural areas that “house” prisoners. As of 2003, 93% of New York State correctional facilities were located in Republican (mostly white, conservative) senate districts. In some of these districts, it was the addition of prisoners that provided the numbers needed to qualify for a legislative district. Between 1980 and 1990, prisoners accounted for 5% of the growth in rural populations in the U.S. Parenti (1999), Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis. ; Mullings (Spring, 2003), “Losing Ground: Harlem, the War on Drugs, and the Prison Industrial Complex,” in Souls. .

9) Profits: MCI has an exclusive phone service contract with the New York State Department of Corrections: MCI charges over six times the regular collect-call rate, and New York State receive 57.5% of the revenue generated. In fiscal year 1997, this amounted to $20.5 million. Contracts for other services-such as security technology, vending machines, and products sold at elevated prices at the “commissary,” where prisoners buy toiletries, food, and other necessities-also generate profits. Combined with the jobs prisons bring, this means that local economies come to depend on full prisons; lower crime rates are bad for business. Duggan, “Captive Audience Rates High; Families Pay Dearly When Inmates Call Collect,” Washington Post. (1/23/2000); see also www.telephonejustice.org .

10) Voter Disenfranchisement: In most states, those convicted of felony crimes are barred from voting for a period of time after their release; in some States, they are banned for life. This means that a single mom convicted of writing bad checks (a felony in some States) or someone convicted at age 18 for a one-time drug sale may never be able to vote again. Currently, 2% of the adult population–including 1.4 million African-American men-cannot vote because of a prior felony conviction. Mauer & Chesney-Lind, Invisible Punishment. (2002).

Source: Barry Chaffkin & Tanya Krupat , Coalition 2007 Conference Presentation

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