Once again, a shout out to one of my favorite bloggers, Matt Kelley, who writes for the Criminal Justice blog at Change.org. Matt recently highlighted some new research that provides data on the lasting costs of incarceration, highlighting who’s most affected and why this increases the gap between the haves and have-nots.
The study, Incarceration and Social Inequality , conducted by sociologists Bruce Western of Harvard and Becky Pettit of the University of Washington, appears in the MIT journal Daedalus. In their research the authors found that the social inequality produced by mass incarceration was so enduring for 3 reasons:
- It’s invisible in that prisoners aren’t typically included in employment and other statistics,
- It’s cumulative in its impact, and
- It affects not only adults but their children, spanning generations.
- Of men aged 20 to 34 — the largest chunk of the prison population incarceration rates have grown the most for the least educated populations. In 1980, 10 percent of African Americans in this age range who hadn’t completed high school were incarcerated, today that rate is 37%. Similarly, in 1980 less than 1 in 50 White dropouts were incarcerated, by 2008, that rate was had climbed to 1 in 8.
- The incarceration rate for black men born between 1975 to 1979 nearly quadrupled from the rate for those born twenty years earlier.
- People who have been incarcerated and fall into the lowest income group, have the least mobility of anyone.
- The impact of conviction goes beyond the person sentenced to a prison term to adversely affect their children. How many kids have a parent who is incarcerated? Nearly 2 percent of white children, 3.5 % of Latino children and 11 % of African children.
This dovetails with what legal scholar Michelle Alexander talks about in her recent book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Era of Colorblindness. Alexander’s argument, well- supported by research, is that the unprecedented rise in people being sent to prison since the 1970s is creating a permanent underclass. Individuals end up being punished in perpetuity, she says, as their records are often to deny them employment, housing and other opportunities that might help them rebuild their lives.
You can read the full report here.