June 6, 2012

High incarceration rates punish taxpayers as well, panelists say

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By Dana Amihere
dana@marylandreporter.com

prison barsLaw enforcement, policymakers and justice advocates said Monday that excessive incarceration of blacks and other people of color is not only a moral injustice but doesn’t make economic sense for taxpayers.

The Maryland State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights  met in Annapolis to hear testimony on the disproportionate number of blacks incarcerated in Maryland and across the nation and its associated costs. This 18-member committee is supposed to meet over the next two years to discuss possible solutions to issues of racial disparity.

“For the last 40 years, we have been a nation addicted to incarceration,” said Laura Murphy, national legislative office director for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Approximately 1 in 100 American adults is currently behind bars, and about 1 in 33 American adults is either in prison or jail or on parole or probation.”

In Maryland alone, the state’s prison population has nearly tripled to over 22,000 since 1980, Murphy said, a figure which has transformed mass incarceration into an issue of civil rights for people of color, especially blacks.

“One in nine young black men between the ages of 20 and 34 are behind bars.” Murphy said. “In some cities, that jumps to one in three young black men under some form of correctional control.”

Hilary Shelton, Washington bureau director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said that the explosive growth of incarcerated persons comes at a high cost to Marylanders.

“In 1982, one in 41 adults was in jail or on parole or on parole or on probation. Today it’s one in 27. And it’s costing taxpayers $3.3 million a day,” Shelton said.

According to the Maryland Higher Education Commission, Maryland was increasing the use of prisons for blacks during the 1990s at a faster pace than increasing use of full time, four-year public universities.

Fixing disparities outside prison walls

Today, the U.S. has the world’s highest incarceration rate. While Americans account for only about 5% of the world’s total population, the United States houses 25% of the world’s prison population, about 2.3 million people behind bars, Murphy said.

Panelists throughout the day reiterated that systemic changes have to be made at all levels.

Efforts have been made and lessons learned about best practices to prevent instances of racially-motivated traffic stops over the past decade, said Mark Carter with the Maryland State Police.

The so-called “war on drugs” has had a direct relationship to increased incarceration.

“The war on drugs has been about as successful as the constitutional amendment to ban the consumption of alcohol,” Murphy said.

Not only are blacks prosecuted more frequently for drugs, they — especially black males — are more likely to be convicted and serve longer prison sentences for charges unrelated to the sale of drugs, according to an NAACP report.

There’s a residual impact on the employability and eligibility for financial aid for college for those who end up with a criminal record, Shelton said. Addicts’ self-medication and youth looking to experiment shouldn’t continue to be penalized after their debt to society has been paid.

  • robyn

    I pray to GOD that something can be done because what happens is a person may break the law be charged with a felony, be sent to prison do time and come home and can’t get a job because of this felony. which in turns puts an individual at multiple disadvantages, i cant get a job, i have no family support i cant drive because license is suspended because of child support. I can’t pay child support because i can’t get a job because of felony that I  have already  went to prison for. Let me go do something to provide some way some how…..a revolving door that certain people don’t want to stop spinning.
      

  • This War on Drugs policy is morally bankrupt.  Politicians never admit they were wrong, unless it can help them get re-elected.  Recently, it seems,  some of them are reading the Polls and seeing Marijuana Legalization has a higher approval rating than they do!
    Legalize and regulate marijuana as we do alcohol, the model is in place.

  • pop

    WAS IT NOT MARTIN OMALLEY WHO LOCKED UP 1 IN 5 BLACK MEN IN BALTIMORE CITY IN 2005 ALONE.
    QUERY THE SUN PAPERS FOR ARTICLES, A NUMBER OF WHITE MEN WERE ALSO ARRESTED BY SOME BLACK  OFFICERS IN RETALIATION …THE NAACP GOT INVOVLED MUCH LATER.    AND WE COMPLAIN ABOUT ONE REPUBLICAN WHO OPENS HIS MOUTH ABOUT INNER HARBOR.   ITS SCANDALOUS WHAT POLITICIANS WILL DO TO BUILD THEIR EGOS AND FUTURE.

    ITS MORE OUTRAGEOUS WHAT GROUPS WHO HAVE POWER WILL TRADE ON THE BACKS OF THIER BROTHER AND SISTER TO GAIN OR KEEP FAVOR.

    BALTIMORE CAN BE THE CITY THAT GETS YOU BACK…JUST LOOK AT THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN OUR CURRENT MAYOR AND PRESIDENT OF CITY COUNCIL.
    THE ORDINARY CITIZEN SHOULD BE AFRAID TO SPEAK OUT.

  • If African Americans are committing more crime and getting locked up for it than whites, how is that disproportianate? Should we just start arresting random white folks to “even it out” whether or not they are committing a crime? 

  • Dale McNamee

     Why don’t the NAACP and the other advocates for black inmates, start teaching “character” to black males early in life ? Also, why don’t they work to reform the community and culture these guys come from ? Or, are they afraid to ?

  • Dizzydon

    Because a higher percentage of Blacks committ crimes and end up in jail is not an injustice.

    DOD

  • Cwals99

    O’Malley as Mayor of Baltimore used the tactic co-opted from New York City of arresting multiple times on minor infractions like loitering in an attempt to manufacture an arrest history that prevents that person from receiving housing or othe social services in an effort to get those people to leave the city.  That coupled with Clinton”s Welfare reform that ended payments and left people either underemployed or taking double-poverty jobs that left them unable to support themselves.  This pushes people closer to having to resort to crime to survive.