After 50 years of mass incarceration, the U.S. faces a reckoning, argues The Sentencing Project in a new review. While crime is far below its peak in the early 1990s, there remains a high level of gun violence. The drug war has failed to prevent fatal overdoses from reaching an all-time high.
The project contends that "a great imbalance in our national approach to public safety, one that relies too heavily on the criminal legal system, has produced excessive levels of punishment and a diversion of resources from investments that would strengthen the capacity of families and communities to address the circumstances that contribute to crime."
The organization offers five recommendations for policymakers and community members to improve safety without deepening the "reliance on extreme sentencing." They include:
:--Community-based interventions such as violence interruption programs and changes to the built environment are a promising approach to decreasing violence without incarceration.
--Shifting responses to people in crisis away from police toward trained community-based responders has the potential to reduce police shootings, improve safety, and decrease incarceration.
--Ending unnecessary police contact and court involvement by decriminalizing and diverting many offenses can improve safety
--Shifting away from criminalizing people who use drugs toward public health solutions.
-- Interventions like summer employment opportunities and training youth in effective decision-making skills are a promising means of reducing criminal legal involvement.
The Sentencing Project complains that "Deep racial and ethnic disparities exist throughout the criminal legal system, from the point of arrest to post-incarceration experiences that include restrictions on voting and employment"
The group's report says that Black, Latinx, and Indigenous residents experience disadvantage at every stage of the criminal legal system because they are more likely to be arrested, convicted, and receive more punitive criminal sanctions than do whites.
Black adults are incarcerated in state prisons at nearly five times the rate of whites. In 2019, Black youth were 4.4 times as likely to be incarcerated in the juvenile justice system as were their white peers. Black Americans die from gun violence at nearly 2.4 times the rate of whites.
Latinx people also are overrepresented in prisons and juvenile facilities, and as victims of crime. While data on Indigenous incarceration rates are limited, it is clear that American Indian and Alaskan Native people are imprisoned and jailed at far higher rates than whites, and victimized at higher rates.