by Michael Strickland
Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D-VA)
Many states can no longer afford to support public education, public benefits, public services without doing something about the exorbitant costs that mass incarceration have created. - Bryan Stevenson founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
A few years ago, the NAACP released a new report, Misplaced Priorities, that examines America's escalating levels of prison spending and its impact on state budgets and our nation’s children, according to naacp.org.
Misplaced Priorities tracks the steady shift of state funds away from education and toward the criminal justice system. Researchers have found that over-incarceration most often impacts vulnerable and minority populations, and that it destabilizes communities.
The report includes these startling facts:
• The majority of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails are people of color, people with mental health issues and drug addiction, people with low levels of educational attainment, and people with a history of unemployment or underemployment.
• The nation’s reliance on incarceration to respond to social and behavioral health issues is evidenced by the large numbers of people who are incarcerated for drug offenses. Among people in federal prisons, people in local jails, and young people held in the nation’s detention centers and local secure facilities, more than 500,000 people— nearly a quarter of all those incarcerated—are incarcerated as the result of a drug conviction.
• During the last two decades, as the criminal justice system came to assume a larger proportion of state discretionary dollars, state spending on prisons grew at six times the rate of state spending on higher education.
Thus, I was pleased to see Reps. Raúl Labrador (R-ID) and Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D-VA), authors of H.R. 3382, the Smarter Sentencing Act,
commending the Senate Judiciary Committee for approving S. 1410, the Senate version of the bill.
The Smarter Sentencing Act would reform criminal sentencing laws, empowering judges to make individualized assessments in nonviolent drug cases. This would ensure that limited resources are focused on the most serious offenders, while maintaining public safety.