The Vera Institute of Justice suggests four solutions to end the billion-dollar disaster of mass incarceration in the United States.
Making fewer arrests, ending low-level prosecutions, holding legislatures accountable, and investing in communities were possible solutions for ending mass incarceration, reported Nicholas Turner, president and director of the Vera Institute of Justice.
“Mass incarceration devastates entire communities. It worsens overall health outcomes and exacerbates eco- nomic inequality,” said Aug. 1, 2021, Forbes article in reference to why communities should be invested in ending it. In making the argument for community investment, Turner points to the fact that local and state governments invest more heavily into jails and prisons than in community development and resources. “Comprehensive healthcare, affordable housing, and meaningful employment opportunities will do far more to keep people safe and help communities thrive than needless incarceration ever will,” said Turner.
According to Turner, the U.S. spends $182 billion per year on mass incarceration. The 1,900 federal and state prisons and 3,000 county jails account for $85 billion of that.
“Police officers make one arrest every three seconds — nearly 10 million arrests a year,” said Turner. “… Police now acts as the default first responders for a range of social, economic, and health issues that would be better addressed by people like counselors and social workers.” Inadequate and inhumane conditions within prisons and jails have led to protests in California and Department of Justice investigations in Alabama.
“Cruelly long sentencing practices also have kept too many people incarcerated for too long,” reported Turner. “Mandatory minimums that require courts to issue long sentences for certain crimes have acted as a driver of mass incarceration…”
There were 3,278 people serving life sentences in 2013, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Prosecutors are among the most powerful actors in the criminal legal system, wielding immense discretion to decide who to charge and for what,” reported Forbes “… They can also perpetuate the racial bias inherent in our criminal legal system — or they can work to rectify it,” said the article.
The United States has nearly two million incarcerated people in its prisons and jails on any given day, reported Turner.
“Prosecutors should decline cases that criminalize poverty, substance use, and mental health, as well as those based on perpetual stops — when police stop people for a minor infraction but then seek evidence of a more serious crime,” Turner said.