High Incarceration Rates of Minorities Punish Taxpayers Too, Panel Says


Law enforcement, policymakers and justice advocates said Monday that excessive incarceration of blacks and other people of color is not only a moral injustice but doesn’t make economic sense for taxpayers.

The Maryland State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights  met in Annapolis to hear testimony on the disproportionate number of blacks incarcerated in Maryland and across the nation and its associated costs. This 18-member committee is supposed to meet over the next two years to discuss possible solutions to issues of racial disparity.

“For the last 40 years, we have been a nation addicted to incarceration,” said Laura Murphy, national legislative office director for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Approximately 1 in 100 American adults is currently behind bars, and about 1 in 33 American adults is either in prison or jail or on parole or probation.”

In Maryland alone, the state’s prison population has nearly tripled to over 22,000 since 1980, Murphy said, a figure which has transformed mass incarceration into an issue of civil rights for people of color, especially blacks.

“One in nine young black men between the ages of 20 and 34 are behind bars.” Murphy said. “In some cities, that jumps to one in three young black men under some form of correctional control.”

Hilary Shelton, Washington bureau director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said that the explosive growth of incarcerated persons comes at a high cost to Marylanders.

“In 1982, one in 41 adults was in jail or on parole or on parole or on probation. Today it’s one in 27. And it’s costing taxpayers $3.3 million a day,” Shelton said.

According to the Maryland Higher Education Commission, Maryland was increasing the use of prisons for blacks during the 1990s at a faster pace than increasing use of full time, four-year public universities.

Fixing disparities outside prison walls

Today, the U.S. has the world’s highest incarceration rate. While Americans account for only about 5% of the world’s total population, the United States houses 25% of the world’s prison population, about 2.3 million people behind bars, Murphy said.

Panelists throughout the day reiterated that systemic changes have to be made at all levels.

Efforts have been made and lessons learned about best practices to prevent instances of racially-motivated traffic stops over the past decade, said Mark Carter with the Maryland State Police.

The so-called “war on drugs” has had a direct relationship to increased incarceration.

“The war on drugs has been about as successful as the constitutional amendment to ban the consumption of alcohol,” Murphy said.

Not only are blacks prosecuted more frequently for drugs, they — especially black males — are more likely to be convicted and serve longer prison sentences for charges unrelated to the sale of drugs, according to an NAACP report.

There’s a residual impact on the employability and eligibility for financial aid for college for those who end up with a criminal record, Shelton said. Addicts’ self-medication and youth looking to experiment shouldn’t continue to be penalized after their debt to society has been paid.

Original Article>

By Dana Amihere

Letters to Editor

  1. Malcolm Kyle says:

    “Criminalization of possession and illegal use of drugs compounded by mandatory sentencing and lengthy prison sanctions for low-level drug use has become the primary cause of mass incarceration. The global prison population has skyrocketed in the last three decades with ten million people worldwide now in jails and prisons. The extraordinary increase in the number of people now incarcerated has had tremendous implications for state and national governments dealing with global recession and a range of economic, social and political challenges. Research indicates that resources that would otherwise be spent on development, infrastructure, education and health care have been redirected over the last two decades to incarcerating drug offenders, many of whom are low-level users.” – page 3

    “Sociologists have also recently observed that the widespread incarceration of men in low-income communities has had a profound negative impact on social and cultural norms relating to family and opportunity. Increases in the imprisonment of poor and minority women with children have now been linked with rising numbers of displaced children and dependents. Drug policy and the over-reliance on incarceration is seen by many experts as contributing to increased rates of chronic unemployment, destabilization of families and increased risk of reincarceration for the formerly incarcerated.” – page 3

    “In the United States, drug arrests have tripled in the last 25 years, however most of these arrests have been for simple possession of low-level drugs. In 2005, nearly 43% of all drug arrests were for marijuana offenses. Marijuana possession arrests accounted for 79% of the growth in drug arrests in the 1990s. Nearly a half million people are in state or federal prisons or a local jail for a drug offense, compared to 41,000 in 1980. Most of these people have no history of violence or high-level drug selling activity” – page 4

    “With over 5 million people on probation or parole in the United States, drug use on parole or probation has become the primary basis by which thousands of people are returned to prison. These technical violations of parole or probation account for as many as 40% of new prison admissions in some jurisdictions.” – page 6


    “The “war on drugs” has also generated indirect costs that many researchers contend have undermined public safety. The federal government has prioritized spending and grants for drug task forces and widespread drug interdiction efforts that often target low-level drug dealing. These highly organized and coordinated efforts have been very labor intensive for local law enforcement agencies with some unanticipated consequences for investigation of other crimes. The focus on drugs is believed to have redirected law enforcement resources that have resulted in more drunk driving, and decreased investigation and enforcement of violent crime laws. In Illinois, a 47% increase in drug arrests corresponded with a 22% decrease in arrests for drunk driving. Florida researchers have similarly linked the focus on low level drug arrests with an increase in the serious crime index.”

    Drug Policy, Criminal Justice and Mass Imprisonment, by Bryan Stevenson


  2. joe diamond says:

    Well, there is profit in jails,

    “Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today — perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system — in prison, on probation, or on parole — than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under ‘correctional supervision’ in America — more than six million — than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height.” — Adam Gopnik, “The Caging of America”

    Does anyone not know there are private….for profit….jails in this country. Not only that…if a small town or a county has open jail space they can balance a budget by taking in state or federal prisoners. Yes this is expensive…but do not worry…the same government that runs the war on drugs intendes to collect enough taxes to operate the program.

    Anyone doubt there are people in jail who could be released without danger to anyone?


  3. The Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank, submitted testimony for the hearing, which can be read here: http://www.ceousa.org/issues/588-testifies-racial-disparities-incarceration-rates

  4. Jack Offett says:

    Name one prominent African-American politician, from the President to the Maryland legislature, who has actually taken action to end this war on America’s youth, including young African-Americans,instead of cow-towing to the Fear Lobby driven by police and the treatment community. It is almost like they would rather continue to lock their own people up to show how bad their community is being treated rather than lead us out of this Jim Crow policy that is part of the bankrupting of America. Indeed, Ron Paul and Barney Frank are some a handful of mostly white electeds who actually see the absurdity of this war against Americans right to choose (yes in America you can abort conceived children but can’t smoke a joint — go figure), particularly with marihuana. Not only would we cut incarceration expenses and redirect law enforcement expenses (or cut budgets), we would end this black mark that keeps young people out of the legitimate economy.

    As Kent County’s economy continues to swirl down the toilet and property owners face higher and higher taxes, it is time our leaders quit babbling and posturing and start getting into the fight. They won’t. Just like economic development, they will continue to waste money on failed policies.

    Jim Crow is alive and well in the criminalization of marihuana. Maybe Al Sharpton should quit whining about Obama truth tellers and start focusing on ending this costly abuse of African Americans and anyone who actually pays taxes in this state or country.

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