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Typical U.S. Inmate Was Arrested Nine Times Before Incarceration

The Prison Policy Initiative has published Beyond the Count, a report that provides a view of the lives of incarcerated people before they were locked up. The organization says its findings "make clear that solving ... [the] mass incarceration crisis will require policy changes that begin outside the prison walls and tackle the inequities and disadvantages incarcerated people face early in their lives." Analyzing a 2020 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report on 2016 data, the report says that 42 percent of survey respondents said their family received public assistance before they were 18. Respondents reported high levels of homelessness, foster care, and living in public housing before the age of 18.

Among other findings, 38 percent of the people surveyed reported a first arrest before age 16, and 68 percent. reported a first arrest before age 19. The average survey respondent had been arrested over nine times in their life. A typical state prisoner is 39 years old and has a 10th grade education. Half of inmates meet the criteria for substance use disorder and 65 percent were using an illicit substance in the immediate lead-up to their incarceration. The report includes more than 20 data tables that identify challenges inmates have faced in their lives. What the data in our new report show is that this country is locking up the same people it has failed by not investing in things like good healthcare, housing, and education for all,” said author Leah Wang. “What’s worse, the data show that most disadvantaged people’s encounters with the justice system begin during childhood, when they are arrested rather than given the care and attention they need as young people.”


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