The United States has the highest per capita rate of incarceration of any developed nation. With 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. holds 25% of the world’s incarcerated individuals. Two-thirds of those incarcerated are African American or Latino.
Many spend years in prison, without treatment, on drug-related charges. Over 85% of women in prison are held on drug-related charges.
Rehabilitation and education have all but disappeared in most prisons, and prior work skills become outdated. The average cost per incarcerated person ranges from $22,650 to $44,000 per year, depending on the state.
High unemployment rates create greater barriers for those returning to society from prison, as they attempt to rebuild their lives. Persons with a drug felony face exclusion from federal programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or food stamps), TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), and HUD housing. The U.S. recidivism rate is also among the highest in the world.
Keeping in mind the high incarceration rate, the cost of incarceration and the high recidivism rate, in 2009 Senator Webb introduced S. 714 The National Criminal Justice Commission Act. It now has 39 co-sponsors, and a companion bill H.R. 5143 passed the House without a roll call vote in early August.
This bill will authorize a study of prison conditions, recidivism, and the status and difficulties of those returning to society.
We have met with women who spent years in prison for possession, or for a minor theft while under the influence of a controlled substance. The obstacles they encounter on re-entry are serious. There are too few supportive re-entry programs. Many have limited skills and education. Numerous women have developed weight and health problems while in prison and they haven’t the resources to develop a professional wardrobe. These all make a job search more difficult. They are unable to secure HUD housing, they are barred for life from federal nutrition programs, and they are barred from receipt of TANF if they are attempting to regain custody of children.
NETWORK strongly supports the formation of this Commission and its work.