The meteoric, costly and unprecedented rise of incarceration in America
Pleas to reform prison policy in the United States have come from numerous interest and advocacy groups over the years, their numbers steadily expanding as the size of the world’s largest prison population has, too. They’ve come from the families of incarcerated offenders, from policymakers who’ve wearied of the war on drugs, from fiscal conservatives who’ve watched states devote ever more money to incarceration. Increasingly, the call for prison reform has come from unlikely alliances of the left and right.
But this latest voice may carry the most weight yet: On Wednesday, the National Research Council published a 464-page report, two years in the making, that looks at the stunning four-decade rise of incarceration in the United States and concludes that all of its costs — for families, communities, state budgets and society — have simply not been worth the benefit in deterrence and crime reduction.
The report, commissioned by the National Institute of Justice and the MacArthur Foundation, assess nearly every facet of America’s “historically unprecedented and internationally unique” rise in incarceration since the 1970s. It synthesizes years of evidence on crime trends, on causes driving the growth in prisons, and on the consequences of all this imprisonment. It argues that the U.S. should revise its current criminal justice policies — including sentencing laws and drug enforcement — to significantly cut prison rates and scale back what’s become the world’s most punitive culture.