Mass incarceration affects all aspects of life and all life. Families are fractured. Children are broken. State and federal prison programs are ineffective to non-existent. People are taken into the system and treated as sub-human. Re-entry systems are not in place to assist ex-convicts. Why then, has it taken nearly 50 years to realize mass incarceration’s broad impact on society? Is there new concern about helping inmates or a new interest in the savings generated from releasing them? Either way, was it necessary that white male faces are the ones telling us what we already know?
The school and sexual assault to prison pipelines now have the attention of U.S. economists. President Barack Obama appointed economist Dr. Jason Furman White House Council of Economic Advisory Chair. During the Clinton administration, Dr. Furman worked at the Council of Economic Advisers, National Economic Council, and at the World Bank, therefore, he is not new to political dogma.
Constitutional expert and President of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law Michael Waldman recently addressed the economic impact of the criminal justice system. His insight into the economic implications of the prison system, however, is not new information for the millions of people incarcerated, on parole or probation, or their families and communities. His employment at the Brennan Center for Justice addresses the impact on marginalized communities. I would be remiss not to remind my readers that Waldman worked for the Clinton Administration. The chart below depicts that the prison population increased by 673,000 at the state and federal levels during the Clinton administration – more than during Ronald Reagan’s two terms, who enacted the War on Drugs.
Prison President Strategy Authors Source
Lyndon B. Johnson War on Poverty Kathryn J. Edin & H. Luke Shaffer Bureau of Justice Statistics Prison Population and Year under Johnson 187,000
Ronald Reagan War on Drugs K. Edin, L. Shaffer & Greg Krikorian LA Times
Prison Population and Year under Reagan 316,914
George Bush War on Crime Greg Krikonian LA Times Prison Population and Year under Bush 559,914 (increased 243,000 during his last 4 yrs.) is last 4 yrs.)
Bill Clinton Three Strikes Greg Krikonian LA Times Prison Population under Clinton 1,232,914
George W. Bush No Child Left Behind Heather C. West & W. J. Sabol Bureau of Justice and Statistics Prison Population under G.W. Bush 1,872,000
Barack Obama Prison Reform Act G. Warren School of Social Work Washington University of St. Louis Prison Population 2.3 million on any given day
Why is this important? The faces of mass incarceration remain Black and Brown males with increasing Black and Brown women, yet economists are now cognizant of the economic impact mass incarceration has had on these communities. Incarceration is becoming a topic of choice of media and cable news. Economists and the Department of Justice are addressing the failure of incarceration and are realizing the U.S. incarceration rates pale in comparison to other countries. It is now an appropriate topic to discuss publicly and openly.
Mass incarcerations directly have affected Black and Brown communities fiscally, emotionally, and its primary prey are children and its’ effect on education for decades.
 C-span April 27