Despite being “the land of the free,” the United States has the biggest prison population in the world. The U.S. accounts for less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet has about 25 percent of its prisoners.
A new study by researchers at Washington University examined the economic toll of mass incarceration in the United States. The research concluded that the full cost of incarceration exceeds $1 trillion, and about half of the $1 trillion is put on the families and communities of people who are incarcerated.
“We find that for every dollar in corrections costs, incarceration generates an additional $10 in social costs.”
– Carrie Pettus-Davis
In addition to the $1 trillion cost, incarcerated people lost about $70 billion in wages that would have been acquired if they were a part of the workforce. Formerly incarcerated people also face widespread discrimination in the workforce after being released from prison, as they lose an estimated $230 billion in lifetime earnings.
“Formerly incarcerated persons earn lower wages because they face occupational restrictions, encounter discrimination in the hiring process, and have weaker social networks and less human capital due to their incarceration.”
This research is important because it accounts for the financial impact on those who are incarcerated, their families, and also their communities.
While this is very daunting research, prison reforms have been occurring. For instance, in a recent PushBlack round-up, we reported that Federal private prisons are set to close.
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