New federal data show that suicide has reached crisis proportions in local jails, where psychiatric care appears to be particularly poor. This situation is especially alarming, given that 12 million people — many with mental illnesses — will cycle through local jails this year. Read more.
American incarceration is not a problem with consequences that have been levied evenly across gender, and racial lines. African American males make up nearly half of all American prisoners (with a total of around 800,000 people imprisoned). This represents a 559 percent increase in the number of black men behind bars since 1980. To read more about the trends of mass incarceration, see this article.
Immigration detention is now the “largest mass incarceration movement in U.S. history. In FY 2012, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detained a record 477,523 adult noncitizens. Since the Obama Administration announced its detention reform initiative in 2009, the number of noncitizens DHS detains yearly has increased by nearly 25 percent. Since passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIIRIRA) in 1996, it has expanded over fivefold. To read more about how mass incarceration affects non-citizens, click here.
After President Obama toured the El Reno Federal Correction Institution in Oklahoma, making him the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, Governor Cuomo published a response in the New York Post. Cuomo discusses what his administration has done for criminal justice reform as well as his executive order for a special prosecutor. Yet he remains vague about what he intends to do to raise the age of criminal responsibility. Read more here.
John Legend published an article in Time Magazine regarding his reflections on US mass incarceration. He discusses his personal experiences with the war on drugs, as well as a description of how Portugal has decriminalized drug-use. To read more of this insightful piece, see here.
President Barack Obama during a recent visit to the federal prison in Oklahoma “reflected on the way some young people end up in prison for mistakes “that aren’t that different than the mistakes I made.” These actions, along with his decision to commute the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders last week, underscore his determination to do something about America’s scandalous incarceration rate…Federal-level sentencing reform for drug crimes is certainly most welcome, but it would barely put a dent in America’s overall incarceration rate. Drug offenders make up only about a fifth of America’s prison population, and less than 15% of America’s prisoners are housed in federal cells.To really roll back the prison-industrial complex, it is necessary to reduce sentences for violent criminals at the state level, too. That’s a tougher sell. It involves not only considering its racial inequities and costly bloat, but also the moral failures of a system that doles out punishments that are out of proportion with their crimes.” See here to learn more about this Economist author’s reflections on the prison industrial complex.
Motivated by economic factors, both parties are currently crafting a bill that will reform federal sentencing laws. One idea is to expand safety valve provisions that give judges discretion to sentence low-level drug offenders to less time in prison. Another would be to allow low-risk offenders to participate in recidivism programs to earn up to a 25% reduction of their sentence. Read more about these political options in this New York Times piece.