In no particular order of importance, several key issues were tackled by PPI in the one-year period between mid-2020 and mid-2021.
A letter written by Peter Wagner, PPI’s executive director, states in part that the organization “exists to tell data-driven stories…to make the moral case for ending mass incarceration.”
The report highlights the work PPI has done to end the practice of the Census Bureau counting more than two million inmates where they are imprisoned using them as “undue political clout.”
“As of today, 40% of the country lives in a state, county, or municipality that has formally rejected prison gerrymandering,” the report stated. “We helped Connecticut, Illinois and Pennsylvania end prison gerrymandering.”
About a dozen states have laws that prohibit gerrymandering, according to PPI, including California.
PPI reported on 25 years of evidence that points to why the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) should be repealed.
One reason for reform, PPI reported, is because the Clinton-era law “has blocked incarcerated people from bringing and winning federal civil rights lawsuits.”
PPI reported civil rights lawsuits filed per 1,000 prisoners has dropped back to levels seen in the 1970s — the drop began when the PLRA was passed in 1996.
PPI cited the unequal treatment of LGBTQ people in the criminal justice system.
“LGBTQ people are overrepresented at every stage of our criminal justice system, from juvenile justice to parole,” PPI reported.
In its report, PPI compiled “existing research on LGBTQ involvement with the criminal justice system, and use (sic) a new national data set to provide the first national estimates for lesbian, gay, or bisexual arrest rates and community supervision rates.”
Rigging the Jury was another study on how states exclude people with criminal records from the process of jury selection.
“Our 50-state report reveals that 43 states bar people with any felony conviction from being on a jury, essentially excluding one in three Black men,” PPI reported.
The report explains how such exclusions “makes juries less racially diverse…”
PPI measured the impact of mass incarceration on women, writing, “Even as the incarceration rate of men drops, women’s incarceration rates have stagnated and are even rising in many places.”
In recent decades, the incarceration rate of women has doubled the pace of men, “and has disproportionately been located in local jails,” PPI reported.
While the population of men in jails has dropped from 2009 to 2018, “the number of women in city and county jails increased by 23%,” PPI reported. One cause was attributed to the war on drugs.
According to PPI, “More than a quarter of women in jail are held for drug crimes, and over the last 35 years, drug-related arrests increased nearly 216% for women.”
The report noted that jails and prisons “will separate millions of mothers from their children in 2021,” adding “Over half of all women in U.S. prisons are mothers, as are 80% of women in jails.” The report estimated some 58,000 women are pregnant upon their entry to a correctional facility.
The report shined a light on local lockup facilities. “Jails are literally mass incarceration’s front door…,” and noted that “Most of the 746,000 people in local jails are eligible to vote, but very few have access to the ballot.”
Potential voters who are jailed are “too poor to afford bail” but still have the right to vote, according to PPI.
As with previous reports, PPI focused on reducing the cost of jail and prison telephone calls.
“Some children have to pay $1 per minute to talk to an incarcerated parent,” PPI reported. “Why? Because prisons and jails profit by granting monopoly telephone contracts to the company that will charge families the most.”
PPI reportedly saved Iowa consumers $1 million per year on telephone calls. It “pressured officials to regulate the prices of phone calls from jails…” New rules will also save others over a $1 million a year. The organization plans to take its success in Iowa to other states, “including California.”
As COVID-19 swept through jails and prisons, PPI advocated for a “humane response.” It urged stakeholders to “demand that elected officials put public health before punishment, and prioritize saving the lives of justice-involved people.”
“It was clear for months that correctional facilities were COVID-19 hotspots,” PPI reported. “Our findings reveal that over half a million cases of COVID-19 in the summer of 2020 — or roughly 13% of all cases — were attributable to mass incarceration.”
In mapping out the vaccination rollout to the incarcerated and correctional staff, the PPI report analyzed 38 state prison systems and discovered “the majority of correctional officers were declining the COVID-19 vaccine, even as in many states incarcerated people weren’t yet eligible.”
PPI reported that less than half of prison staff were vaccinated in most states. Added to that, “We show that there were actually fewer people released from prison in 2020 than in 2019.” And, according to other research, it found “Parole boards approved fewer releases in 2020 than in 2021, despite the raging pandemic.”
“Our 2021 report includes 27 policies, including specific ways to expand alternatives to policing and incarceration, reduce the footprint of probation and parole, and more,” PPI stated.
The PPI report compiled available data into graphs, centered on juvenile justice, jails and pretrial detainees, sentencing, prisons and reentry. “The series is designed to provide an accessible snapshot of the racial injustices in our criminal justice system.”