With 2.3 million people in jail and prisons, 7 million on probation or parole, the US is by far the most incarnated nation on the planet. With numbers like these, its safe to assume that we as a nation also spend the most on our criminal justice system with nearly 270 billion dollars in expenditures annually. These numbers have grown nearly 70 percent in the last 2 decades.
Numbers alone it is clear that our justice system is outdated, inefficient, and expensive.
Though, while these numbers reveal a lot about our criminal justice system, it fails to explicitly show the aspects of this system that disproportionately targets people of color, more specifically impoverished people of color. I will hopefully make many of you aware of the importance of criminal justice reform, a topic many of you will be made very aware of for the first time, as it doesn’t pertain to a lot of you so why care?
The criminal justice system has been a recurring theme in my life for as long as I can possibly remember, and even before that. My father was incarcerated for the first two months of my life and every so often after that up until the last time when I was 8. I’ve sat in more courtrooms than I can count, watched my dad get thrown to the ground by police, and seen him miss crucial parts of my life due to incarceration. Why? Non violent drug charges. Cannabis. A drug that’s currently recreationally legal in the state of Michigan and 29 other states across the united states. Unfortunately this was and is a reality for millions of kids like me and millions of adults like my father. And like my father, and many in similar situations, after incarceration, as an overwhelming majority are released back into society , these people are ostracized from communities, housing, education, legal ways of earning income, and even the basic right of voting. This is the very cycle that defines our criminal justice system today. A cycle that dooms the incarcerated to further crime.
History has conditioned us to believe somehow the criminal justice system brings about accountability and public safety regardless of evidence to the contrary. The current system so blatantly favors this cycle of repeat offenders over the goal it strives for which is public safety. As explained above this is a cycle that has a terrible social cost on children, family, peers, and a terrible safety outcome for the rest of us, and is a cycle that leaks through generations and affects far more than the incarcerated. This current system is especially worrisome when one thinks of the reality that these lives are held in the far from cradling hands of police, judges, and most importantly prosecutors, many of which are wildly untrained in the practice of reintegration where it is necessary.
Now, the solution. How do we fix this? It starts with the reallocation of that 270 billion dollars. The reinvestment of the long term incarceration cost, preventing these crimes entirely in the first place. Its investing money in real solutions, education, mental health treatment, intervention, opportunity, support and empathy. It costs 109,000 dollars to lock up a teenager for 1 year, including a high chance that teen will return to the system later in life. Why not prevent that long term cost with an upfront cost of intervention and education, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars with just one case.
Overall, I think most of us can agree that educated and employed is better than condemned, and the importance of creating real solutions to real and unique issues, rather than wasting time and money in prosecution, court hearings, and incarceration just to name a few.
Modern psychology is based on the premise that people can and do change. Ancient, outdated, and unfortunately modern criminal justice is based on the assumption that people can’t change and never will. One of them is evolving how we see humanity and the other is hurting us and our communities.
There is no law, no justice system more powerful than people helping people.