Black ExperienceNationalStacy Brown

U.S. is World’s Largest Jailer: Report

Sixty-three percent of African Americans said they have an immediate family member who’s been in jail or prison, according to a new report that further underscores the need for meaningful criminal justice reform.

The research presented in the report provides a first look at the full range of family incarceration, and, as the authors noted, is eye-opening and disconcerting.

The numbers cement America as the world’s largest jailer.

One out of every two adults in the United States — or 113 million people — has lived through some version of imprisonment — a parent known in snatches of visits, a brother or sister missing, a child locked away.

The report resulted from research conducted by Cornell University and the District-based FWD.us, a lobbying group that advocates for prison reform, amnesty for undocumented immigrants, particularly for DACA recipients, and higher levels of immigration visas, particularly for H-1B visas for foreign workers in STEM fields.

It revealed that 1 in 7 adults has had a close family member spend more than one year in jail or prison — over 35 million people.

An immediate family member is defined by the report’s authors as a parent, child, sibling, current romantic partner or someone else with whom the respondent had a child.

“These numbers are stunning, all the more so if you think of them not as numbers but as stories like mine,” said Felicity Rose, FWD.us’s director of Research and Policy for Criminal Justice Reform. “My hope is that this new research can help others begin to see through that fog of isolation and shame that hovers around too many families who have experienced incarceration, to see their own stories as part of a larger whole, important and worthy of telling, Most importantly, I hope they motivate everyone — those who have experienced it personally as well as those who have not, yet — to take action and help end mass incarceration and the harm it causes.”

A staggering 64 percent of adults in America have had an immediate or extended family member in jail or in prison, while 1 in 4 has had a sibling incarcerated and 1 in 3 has had a parent in jail or prison, according to the report.

Today, an estimated 6.5 million adults — or 1 in 38 — have an immediate family member that’s currently incarcerated while 1 in 7 has had a spouse or co-parent in jail or in prison. Further, 1 in 8 Americans has had a child incarcerated, according to the 55-page report.

While short periods of incarceration and long prison sentences pose different challenges for families, the report author’s said both are far too common.

One in 5 people have had an immediate family member spend one month or less in jail or prison, one in 7 has had an immediate family member spend one year or longer locked up, and one in 34 has had an immediate family member spend at least a decade in prison.

Race and economics play a major role as incarceration disproportionately affects people of color and families who are low-income, according to the report.

Examples are aplenty.

Black adults are 50 percent more likely than white adults to have an immediate family member incarcerated — 63 percent compared to 42 percent—and Latino adults are 70 percent more likely to have had an immediate family member incarcerated for longer than one year — 17 percent compared to 10 percent.

The report revealed that Black adults are 3-times more likely than white adults to have had an immediate family member incarcerated for longer than one year — 31 percent compared to 10 percent — and adults with household incomes less than $25,000 per year are 61 percent more likely than adults with household incomes more than $100,000 to have had a family member incarcerated; and three times more likely to have had a family member incarcerated for one year or longer.

Statistics also revealed that incarceration imposes a large burden on women and children with 48 percent of women reported having had an immediate family member incarcerated compared to 42 percent of men.

Yet the report’s authors said the numbers still minimize the harmful effects of incarceration on the economy, communities, and families.

Taxpayers spend $273 billion each year on the criminal justice system but relying on these direct taxpayer costs still radically undersells the overall price of this system, the authors wrote.

Researchers estimate that the economy loses $87 billion in annual Gross Domestic Product due to over-criminalization and the harmful effects of felony convictions.

The impact of incarceration is also unevenly felt by low-income communities of color.

Research shows that one in three Black men will be incarcerated during their lifetime and people of color make up 37 percent of the U.S. population but 67 percent of the prison population.

In 2014, the National Research Council concluded that “the harshest criminal sanctions are being meted out disproportionately in the most vulnerable neighborhoods.” The same report found that lengthy prison sentences are “ineffective as a crime control measure,” refuting those who might argue that the cost of mass incarceration can be justified on public safety grounds.

“The reality is that incarceration provides few crime benefits and limits opportunities for people to be successful once they have been released,” the authors said.

To view the full report, go to www.everysecond.fwd.us.

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Stacy Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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