Last year, after reading Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration In the Age of Colorblindness”, I came away thinking this will go down as one of the most important books of the 21st Century. In the year since then, nothing has transpired to change my mind. If anything, the discussion in this country on race has amped up.
It is difficult to put race aside when discussing major urban issues, especially mass incarceration. However, if you take race out of the equation for a moment and look at our prison system strictly from a policy or economic standpoint, an inexorable conclusion is reached: mass incarceration is simply bad policy. It is a terrible deal for taxpayers. The corrections system is enormously expensive and largely ineffective. As a consequence, the taxpayer does not get bang for his or her hard-earned tax dollars. In Connecticut, we pay over $1 billion annually on corrections. It costs $51,000 annually per bed to house an inmate in our state prisons, the third highest rate in the country. Yet, Connecticut has a recidivism rate well above the national average, with close to two-thirds of released inmates returning to prison within two to three years. This revolving door, directly and indirectly, places further strains on our state’s budget.
If a CEO at a Fortune 500 Company produced the operating results of our corrections system, he or she would face a shareholder revolt. So why has there been no taxpayer revolt or outcry? I would suggest it is a product of a lack of attention and the wide acceptance of the mantra that tough on crime policies necessarily serve the public’s desire for safety.
Unlike a lot of the problems we face, our prison system is one that is solvable. One needs only to look at the proven success of reforms enacted in both red and blue states. By (1) right-sizing our prison population, (2) using prisons primarily for hard-core, violent criminals and (3) re-investing the cost savings from such right-sizing on drug and mental health treatments and post-release support, we can realize a trifecta of benefits: reduced costs; lower recidivism; and improved crime rates. Taxpayers should rally behind right-sizing and proven prison reforms.
Such reform also comes with the prospect of a fourth societal benefit–improving the fate of inmates, their families and their local communities. Upon finishing Michelle Alexander’s book and learning about the dire collateral consequences of a felony conviction (e.g., loss of public assistance and housing), I was left thinking that a released felon would be better off leaving the United States and starting over elsewhere. That is a sad and sobering thought. We, as a society, must and can do better. Rehabilitation is not out of reach. Prison reform, if done properly, can yield not only the trifecta of benefits, but also better the lives of inmates and their families. If we fail to act decisively, we risk subjecting yet another generation of urban youth to the revolving door of our current prison system, a door that the taxpayer pays to keep spinning.
Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div, Minister/Director
Lynn Springer, Advocate, Innocent Spouses & Children
George Bresnan, Advocate, Ex-Pats
Michael Karaffa, Advocate, Disabilities
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Comments From Social Media:
Anna Melissa Jackson We won’t revolt against mass incarceration on a national level until this is affecting more than the black and brown communities.