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Study Marks 50th Anniversary of Mass Incarceration in U.S.

Chicago psychologist Arthur J. Lurigio dug into the history and effects of mass incarceration, to mark its 50th anniversary.

He starts his article, which will be published in June in The Prison Journal, by laying out the basic math of the issue. “Since 1973, the U.S. prison population has climbed by 500%. Today, almost 2 million people – disproportionately Black Americans – are incarcerated in our nation’s prisons and jails, representing an incarceration rate that now ranks sixth in the world.”

Lurigio is both an academic and a person who worked within the system that he describes. He is a psychologist and professor of criminal justice and psychology at the Loyola University Chicago College of Arts and Sciences, directs Loyola’s Center for the Advancement of Research, Training and Education (CARTE), is the senior research advisor to the Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities. And, for 20 years, he served as the director of research at the Cook County Adult Probation Department.

Within the article, five sections serve a primer to the basics of mass incarceration, outlining sentencing, inmate characteristics, growth of prison population, the “collateral damage” caused by mass incarceration” and strategies to reduce incarceration and its harms.

His layers of knowledge are evident, as he carefully explains his topics. Sentencing, for instance. “Offenses categorized as violent might involve no physical harm to the victims. For example, some state and federal offenses on “violent crimes” encompass stealing drugs, burglarizing residences in the evening, snatching a purse, and manufacturing methamphetamines.” Or, in inmate demographics. “Poverty is the driving force behind sentencing disparities for underrepresented minorities, women, and the combination thereof, as exemplified by the stark sentencing disproportionality experience by Black women.”

In his conclusions and recommendations, Lurigio again describes the issue with the exactitude of a scientist. “The insinuation of the federal law enforcement apparatus into state correctional operations led to mass incarceration, including the war on drugs, the enactment of harsh sentencing laws, and the mindless pursuits of parole and probation revocations. These changes, which began in the 1970s, should be systematically reviewed and deconstructed by panels of experts who rely on scientific evidence to support their recommended reforms,” he writes.





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