I have found this data in nearly every search I have done regarding the current number of Americans behind bars:
“There are 2.3 million Americans in prison or jail. The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prisoners. One in three black men can expect to spend time in prison. There are 2.7 million minors with an incarcerated parent. The imprisonment rate has grown by more than 400 percent since 1970.”
Contained within that one paragraph ought to be enough outrage and angst for the future of America for just one American.
Yet, for any number of reasons, the political left and the right say little and do little to address this topic and its current and future implications for America’s future.
The notion that “One in three black men can expect to spend time in prison.” is as chilling a statistic as anything I’ve ever seen in my life.
How does a parent of an African-American child in America believe their son has any chance to achieve the American Dream if his odds of being in prison is higher than the batting average of Major League Baseball players?
It demands answers. Not simple slogans or rhetoric that’s easy to post in this day of faux internet umbrage and knee-jerk condemnation.
To be sure there must be an element of racism in our criminal justice system that results in this statistic. Of this I have no doubt.
But, it can’t explain it all.
What other socio-economic and cultural phenomena results in this reality? Who are these one in three black men? What are their crimes? Where do they live?
Was and is their imprisonment the only or best option for whatever crime they may have committed?
Beyond this sickening statistic is the fact that America has the largest population of Americans incarcerated at any time than any other nation in the world.
The cost to the U.S. taxpayer for the incarceration of a single American is roughly $31,000. In places like California that cost is closer to $50,000 as a result of unions and higher health care costs.
And, there are more jails and prisons in the United States than there are degree-granting colleges and universities.
According to the Atlantic, in many places in America there are more people living in prisons than living on college campuses.
Now, the 2.3 million people in America’s prisons and jails represent different populations at any given time.
The ability to determine who is in prison or jail, and why, and for how long is difficult and complex.
I found a fascinating graphic that attempts to describe the demographic profile of America’s incarcerated population.
It alone makes clear two points.
One, there are too many Americans behind bars.
Two, we need a better strategy for America’s future.
There are people who deserve and need to be behind bars.
It is without argument that there are men and women whose crimes are either so horrific or so unforgiveable they should be behind bars, and in many cases, should never come out from behind them.
It is with argument whether or not beyond that the use of incarceration is accomplishing much more than abject punishment.
I have never personally believed that prison or jail serves much value in terms of rehabilitation.
But I will also say that I don’t know if that is true or not. It is my personal opinion.
I believe in the death penalty for certain crimes. I do believe that there are those who commit crimes so heinous they have forfeited their right to remain alive as any kind of member of the human race.
I also believe there are those who have been unfairly convicted on the facts – in other words, they didn’t commit the crimes that resulted in their imprisonment or sentence.
I also believe there are many Americans in prison and jail today whose crimes cost us more in lost opportunity for the future of our country than we gain from their time behind bars.
As the U.S. Presidential election begins to ramp up, and elections throughout America start to form, the nature of our world’s single largest incarcerated population should be something more than a talking point in a candidate’s literature.
When there are nearly 3 million American children who have a parent that is behind bars we have an obligation to have a conversation about the future.
Perhaps it is too late for a significant share of those incarcerated parents. But, it cannot be too late – it simply must not be too late – for the future of those 3 million children.