The American criminal justice system holds almost 2.3 million people in 1,833 state prisons, 110 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,134 local jails, 218 immigration detention facilities, and 80 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories. Why are there so many people locked up?
Five myths about mass incarceration
1. Releasing "nonviolent drug offenders" would end mass incarceration
Truly spoken, our judicial system punishes severely for drug possession. Drug offenses account for almost half a million people incarcerated and nonviolent drug convictions remains a defining feature of the federal prison system. However, on local and state levels, there are more people locked up for violent and property offenses than for drug offenses alone. To end mass incarceration, we will have to reach further. UCM is investing into our communities and are striving to develop community based alternatives. This will benefit those at risk of incarceration for any offense.
2. Private prisons are the corrupt heart of mass incarceration.
Studies show that less than 8% of all incarcerated people are held in private prisons; the majority are held in publicly-owned prisons and jails. With this said, there is still a range of private industries and public agencies that continue to profit from mass incarceration. By granting contracts to these companies the cost of incarceration has been burdened onto those incarcerated and their families allowing the institutions to trim their budgets dramatically.
3. Prisons are "factories behind fences" that exist to provide companies with a huge labor force.
There is only about 1% of the general population of incarcerated people are employed by private companies and about 6% of those in state prisons work for state-owned correctional industries. Prisons heavily rely on the incarcerated for food service, laundry and other operations. Forcing people to work for low or no pay and no benefits allows prisons to shift the costs of incarceration to incarcerated people, which hides the true cost of running proisons for most Americans.
4. Expanding community supervision is the best way to reduce incarceration
What is community supervision? Probation, parole, and pretrial supervision. While this is good because it keeps those involved from being behind bars, this system is so restrictive that it could be viewed as a set up for failure. In 2016, about 168,000 people were incarcerated for for "technical violations" of probation or parole, not for any new crimes. Probation leads to unnecessary incarceration and until it reformed to support and reward success rather than detect mistakes, it is not a reliable "alternative."
5. People in prison for violent or sexual crime are too dangerous to be released.
Just because pople have committed violent or sexual crimes doesn't mean that they are incapable of rehabilitaion. It is time to consider policy changes that go beyond the low-hanging fruit of non-violent, non-serious, or non-sexual offenses. If we are to be serious about ending mass incarceration, we will have to change our responses to more serious and violent crimes. People convicted of sexual assault oand homicide are amonth the least likely to reoffend after release. Their re-arrest numbers are roughly 30-50% lower than people convicted of larceny or motor vehicle theft.
EXPO is a group of leaders comprised of formerly incarcerated men and women who works to end mass incarcerations, eliminate all forms of structural discrimination against formerly incarcerated people, and restore formerly incarcerated people to full participation in the lives of communities. EXPO leaders and members provide support to each other and organize to change the unjust criminal system in Illinois. Support is received through family, friends, and allies of currently and formerly incarcerated people who may or may not have experienced incarceration directly, but have been affected indirectly.
UCM has partnered with EXPO to develop an East St. Louis, IL Chapter. We are linking faith with justice!
The underlying problem with the school to prison pipeline is the use of court referrals as a means of disciplining misbehaved kids in schools. Court referrals are the primary factor in kids becoming first time offenders.
The second factor in kids entering the juvenile justice system is the widespread overuse of suspensions and expulsions. Studies show that in-school and out-of-school suspensions, complete expulsions, and court referral arrests stemming from conduct violations typical in adolescent behavior does not curtail such behaviors. In this same research, there is indication that African American and Hispanic students are most often disciplined for more subjective offenses; acts such as throwing food, cursing, disobeying a teacher, loitering, or making excessive noise, whereas their Caucasian schoolmates are less likely to be suspended for more concrete offenses that include smoking, skipping school, or vandalism.
Two policies/actions currently used in schools that generate the mass introduction to juvenile justice system are Zero Tolerance Policies and Outsourced Disciplined/Officers in School. Zero Tolerance Policies have increased the number of suspensions and expulsions. Having officers in schools began as an act of protections, but has become the leading source of juvenile arrests.
We are pushing city ordinances to enforce local and state laws for liquor stores in East St. Louis who engage in illegal activities and sales that promote food deserts, substance abuse, and increased criminal activity.