The Center for American Progress (CAP) has attempted to tackle a growing bipartisan issue: over-criminalization and over-incarceration.
A recent panel discussion at CAP featured University of Texas sociology professor Becky Pettit who argued that “incarceration is deeply concentrated among men, those who are young, and those of color.” She noted out of the 2.2 million inmates in the prison system, “approximately half of them are black.” She claimed that, “Among young black men who drop out of high school, over a third are incarcerated on any given day.” She did not mention that their victims outside the gates are also likely to be black.
Also, Pettit believes the current system “disproportionately affects former inmates” who violate probation and parole. Her own words were that “The consequences are dire: it makes it hard to get a job…stable housing; it makes it hard to support one’s family.”
“Crime, by almost any measure, has been on the decline since the 1990s, yet incarceration has risen since 2000,” Pettit said. It apparently never occurred to her that the latter helped lead to the former.
She went on to claim that “One in four children can expect to have a parent” in prison until age 18. Pettit believed these statistics are “an important call for research on that, specifically. We know this is important in people’s lives…it’s important to know more about what the impacts are.” And, most of all, Pettit said, “It’s not a new thing.”
Pettit said that the government should be “stemming the inflow into incarceration and recognizing the full complement for the needs and capacities” for those in the system. She said, “Mental health, and other issues they [inmates] may have” are important to take care of in the criminal justice system. Pettit averred that Americans need to “help prepare people for reentry and success” and adjust to today’s “rapidly changing labor force.” She said, “Ninety-five percent of people who go to prison or jail come out” and it is up to us to “think really hard about how to prepare them for the real world.”