Press Releases archives

A relic of the War on Drugs pressures states to automatically suspend the driver’s license of anyone convicted of a drug offense, even if the offense did not involve driving. This practice hits the poor the hardest.

December 12, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:,
Joshua Aiken
jaiken [at] prisonpolicy.org
(413) 527-0845

Easthampton, MA — A 26-year-old federal law passed at the height of the War on Drugs pressures states to automatically suspend the driver’s license of anyone convicted of a drug offense, even if the drug offense did not involve driving. A new report by the non-profit non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative tracks the growing state rejection of this federal policy, and shines a light on the states that continue to implement this outdated and ineffective law. These stragglers make it harder for people with drug convictions to meet economic needs, familial obligations, and even court requirements, all of which require driving.

The report, Reinstating Common Sense: How driver’s licenses suspensions for drug offenses unrelated to driving are falling out of favor provides, for the first time, a national overview of license suspension statutes. “While the majority of states have opted-out of the federal law,” said Joshua Aiken, author of the report, “12 states and Washington D.C. have continued to hurt their own citizens with these needless license suspensions.”

Currently, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington D.C. automatically suspend driver’s licenses for non-driving drug offenses. “These drug suspension laws are one of the most punitive and unnecessary side effects of the War on Drugs,” notes Aiken, the Policy Fellow at the Prison Policy Initiative. “The report finds that the burden of these suspensions fall most heavily on low-income people and people of color.”

The report finds that driver’s license suspensions can prevent people with past drug convictions from meeting their civil and familial responsibilities. “There is no evidence that these license suspensions deter crime, but the evidence is clear that these laws harm our society,” says Aiken.

Driver’s license suspensions have serious consequences for drivers and the states. 86% of Americans rely on a motor vehicle to get to work, so a suspended driver’s license can often limit employment opportunities. The report shows that in many low-income communities impacted by non-driving drug violations, the vast majority of jobs cannot be reasonably accessed using public transportation. In one study, 45% of respondents lost their job after their license was suspended. 88% of people reported decreased income. The report also discusses the unintended fiscal burden that the federal law places on state governments.

The number of states that automatically suspend driver’s licenses for drug convictions is shrinking rapidly. In just the last three years, five states (Indiana, Delaware, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Ohio) have ended the practice.

Based in Easthampton, Massachusetts, the Prison Policy Initiative was founded in 2001 to expose the broader harm of mass criminalization and spark advocacy campaigns to create a more just society. The organization is most well-known for sparking the movement to end prison gerrymandering and for its big picture data visualization “Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie.” The organization’s 2014 report “Suspending Common Sense in Massachusetts: Driver's license suspensions for drug offenses unrelated to driving” led to reform in that state.


The state brings in over $20 million in revenue from monthly probation fees each year. The problem? Probation rates are highest in the lowest-income communities.

December 8, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 8, 2016

Contact:
Wendy Sawyer
wsawyer [at] prisonpolicy.org
(413) 527-0845

Easthampton, MA – The state brings in over $20 million in revenue from monthly probation fees each year. The problem? Probation rates are highest in the lowest-income communities, according to a new report by the Prison Policy Initiative. Punishing Poverty: the high cost of probation fees in Massachusetts analyzed probation cases and income data for the state’s 62 District Court locations.

“The state is charging monthly probation fees to the people who can least afford to pay them,” said Wendy Sawyer, the author of the report, “and setting them up for failure.”

In Massachusetts, there are currently about 67,000 people on probation who are charged a monthly fee of $50-65. The report explains that it is harder for people who cannot afford these monthly probation fees to succeed in meeting the conditions of their probation. When someone on probation fails to pay their fee, it counts as a “probation violation,” which can lead to more fees, license suspension, arrest, and can even land them back in jail.

The Prison Policy Initiative’s report adds to the growing body of research on the harms of the state’s court-imposed fines and fees. The report follows on the heels of two recent reports by the Trial Court and by the Senate, which explain the problems with court-imposed fines and fees that can lead to incarceration for people who fail to pay.

Punishing Poverty offers a comprehensive look at probation fees, including their roots in 1980s “tough on crime” politics and the problems they cause for probationers and courts.

The report unearths a long-forgotten legislative research brief from 1988 that explains how this policy came to pass. Probation fees were instituted as a misguided attempt to plug a budget in crisis, passed by legislators capitalizing on the “tough on crime” political climate. The 1988 brief also reveals that legislators understood the inherently coercive nature of probation fees.

The state faces a budget shortfall again in FY 2017, but Sawyer argues that charging probationers fees they cannot afford is no solution. “The state needs to recognize that the people in the criminal justice system are among the state’s poorest,” she says. “Fines and fees just make their situations worse, not to mention making more work for the courts.”

Punishing Poverty provides recommendations for far-reaching reforms for the legislature, judiciary, and probation. An appendix includes detailed information comparing each court location’s probation and income data. The most striking findings from the report’s analysis of probation and income data are large disparities between the probation rates of the state’s wealthiest and poorest communities:

  • The courts serving the populations with per capita incomes below $30,000 have probation rates 88% higher than in those serving the populations with incomes over $50,000.
  • Just ten court locations where the population has below-average incomes account for a full third of District Court probation cases.
  • Residents of Holyoke are sentenced to probation at a rate more than three times higher than in Newton. But Holyoke’s probationers can scarcely afford to pay this regressive tax; the average income in that area is $21,671.

The Easthampton, Massachusetts-based Prison Policy Initiative was founded in 2001 to expose the broader harm of mass criminalization. The organization is most well known for sparking the movement to end prison gerrymandering and for its big picture data visualization “Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie.”

The new report, Punishing Poverty: the high cost of probation fees in Massachusetts, is available at: https://www.prisonpolicy.org/probation/ma_report.html


Prison Policy Initiative's new report, "States of Incarceration: The Global Context 2016," compares the incarceration rates of individual U.S. states to that of other countries.

June 16, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 16, 2016

Contact:
Alison Walsh
awalsh [at] prisonpolicy.org

Easthampton, MA — How does your state compare to the international community when it comes to the use of incarceration? Not very well, says a new report and infographic by the Prison Policy Initiative.

“When compared against each other, some U.S. states appear to be far more restrained in their use of incarceration than high incarcerators like Louisiana,” said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative and co-author of the report. “But all U.S. states are out of step with the rest of the world.”

Preview of interactive chart showing rates of incarceration for U.S. states and nations of the world

This report, “States of Incarceration: The Global Context 2016,” updates our 2014 briefing that, for the first time, directly situated individual U.S. states in the global context.

“Massachusetts and Vermont have the lowest incarceration rates in the U.S.,” said Alison Walsh, report co-author and Policy & Communications Associate. “Compared to Louisiana, these states look progressive. But if these states were independent nations, they would rank as the 11th and 12th greatest users of incarceration on the planet, following the United States and a group of nations whose recent history often includes wars, military coups and genocides.”

The report includes an interactive graphic showing the incarceration rates for individual U.S. states and the District of Columbia and all countries with a population of at least 500,000. The report also includes a separate graphic comparing the incarceration rates of the U.S. to several NATO nations.

“I hope that this data helps all states prioritize further criminal justice reforms. Lower incarceration rates are not only possible, in the rest of the world they are a reality,” said Wagner.

The report and infographic draw international figures on incarceration from the Institute for Criminal Policy Research’s World Prison Brief and state-level figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Easthampton, Massachusetts-based Prison Policy Initiative was founded in 2001 to expose the broader harm of mass criminalization and spark advocacy campaigns to create a more just society. The organization is most well known for sparking the movement to end prison gerrymandering and for its big picture data visualization “Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie.”

The report, “States of Incarceration: The Global Context 2016,” is available at:
http://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/2016.html


New report provides big picture of mass incarceration with pie charts for each state and D.C.

June 1, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 1, 2016

Contact:
Bernadette Rabuy
brabuy [at] prisonpolicy.org

Easthampton, MA — Prisons are just one piece of the correctional pie. Some of the seemingly less punitive states are actually the most likely to put their residents under some other form of correctional control, finds a new report by the Prison Policy Initiative.

Correctional Control: Incarceration and supervision by state builds off of the Prison Policy Initiative’s popular report, Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie, to provide the big picture of mass incarceration. “We often get requests for versions of the pie chart report for each state. Our new report responds to this request with over 100 graphs illustrating the breakdown of the criminal justice system in each state plus D.C.,” said co-author of the report, Peter Wagner. The report also includes an interactive chart that ranks each state and D.C. by rate of total correctional control, which includes incarceration, probation, and parole.

Preview of interactive chart showing rates of correctional control for each state and D.C.

The report uncovers tremendous variations in the forms and rates of criminal justice control:

  • Georgia’s rate of probation is more than double every other states’ rate of probation and greater than every other states’ total rates of correctional control.
  • Rhode Island and Minnesota, two states with some of the lowest incarceration rates in the country, are among the most punitive when other methods of correctional control are taken into account.
  • The capital of the “free world,” D.C., has a higher incarceration rate than any U.S. state and higher than any nation on the planet.

Correctional Control provides another metric for understanding where each state falls within the national landscape of mass incarceration and where state-based advocates may want to focus their attention. The authors of Correctional Control conclude that criminal justice reform strategies should aim to reduce the total number of people under correctional control rather than simply transfer people to other pieces of the correctional pie.

“As the movement to end mass incarceration continues to gain steam, it would be wise to include probation, the leading type of correctional control, in discussions of reform,” explained co-author of the report, Bernadette Rabuy. “Probation has the potential to be a powerful alternative to incarceration but, when used unnecessarily, serves only to widen the net and funnel more people into incarceration.”

The report and the 100+ graphs are available at: http://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/50statepie.html

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New report finds people unable to meet bail are poorest of the poor.

May 10, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 10, 2016

Contact:
Bernadette Rabuy
brabuy [at] prisonpolicy.org

Easthampton, MA — People in local jails are significantly poorer than non-incarcerated people, and even poorer than people in prison, finds a new report by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative.

Detaining the Poor: How money bail perpetuates an endless cycle of poverty and jail time connects the large pretrial population in local jails to the criminal justice system’s reliance on money bail. “I kept hearing that 80% of defendants are indigent, but I was curious if people in local jails are even poorer than people in prison. To get a better picture of the role that money bail plays in the large unconvicted jail population in the U.S., we focused specifically on people unable to meet bail. I expected people unable to meet bail to be poor, but I was surprised that a majority fall within the poorest third of the national income distribution,” said Bernadette Rabuy, who, along with data scientist Dan Kopf, last year published a similar report on the pre-incarceration incomes of people in state prison.

The latest numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reveal that median bail for felony defendants was $10,000. “Using another BJS dataset, the Survey of Inmates in Local Jails, we found that the typical detained defendant would need to spend eight months’ income to cover $10,000 in money bail,” explained Kopf.

Detaining the Poor’s release coincides with newly published research by the Federal Reserve showing that many Americans are unable come up with $400 in an emergency without borrowing money from others or selling something. “If the average American cannot easily come up with $400, it is clear that a system that requires $10,000 from the poorest members of our society for pretrial release is a system set up to fail,” explained Rabuy.

The report provides the pre-incarceration incomes of people in local jails who had the opportunity to be released pretrial, but were unable to meet the conditions of bail. The report further breaks down the incomes of the detained population by race, ethnicity, and gender. Additionally, the authors compare pre-incarceration incomes to the incomes of similarly aged non-incarcerated Americans.

While the report focuses on the incomes of people who were detained for their inability to meet bail, the authors recognize the scarcity of useful information about the jail populations in this country, so they also provide the pre-incarceration incomes of people in local jails generally in an appendix.

The new report, Detaining the Poor: How money bail perpetuates an endless cycle of poverty and jail time is available at: http://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/incomejails.html

The report is a collaboration between the Prison Policy Initiative and Dan Kopf, a member of the organization’s Young Professionals Network and co-author of last year’s report on the pre-incarceration incomes of people in state prisons.

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This Pi Day, the Prison Policy Initiative has an updated version of its mass incarceration pie chart, including more detail on jails and new infographic slideshows

March 14, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 14, 2016

Contact:
Bernadette Rabuy
brabuy [at] prisonpolicy.org

Easthampton, MA — With 2.3 million people locked up in thousands of correctional facilities operated by various agencies, getting the big picture is anything but easy. Today, with the publication of Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2016, the Prison Policy Initiative provides the answer to how many people are locked up in the U.S., where, and why. Building upon our groundbreaking 2015 and 2014 reports, that, for the first time, aggregated the disparate systems of confinement, this updated version allows the reader to drill deeper, including into the reasons that so many people are locked up in local jails.

Pie chart showing the number of people locked up on a given day in the United States by facility type and the underlying offense using the newest data available in March 2016.

As we discuss in the report and accompanying infographics, looking at the “whole pie” allows us to cut through the fog to answer key questions such as:

  • After state prisons, what is the next biggest slice of confinement?
  • Are there more people in local jails that have been convicted of a crime or have not been convicted?
  • How does the number of people that cycle through correctional facilities in a year differ from the number of people locked up on a particular day?
  • Are most people in state and federal prisons locked up for drug offenses?
  • How many youth are locked up in the U.S. and in what types of facilities?
  • How does the number of people in correctional facilities compare to the even larger number of people under the supervision of probation and parole?

Armed with the big picture, Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2016, gives the public and policymakers the foundation to now consider the types of changes that would end the country’s reign as the number one incarcerator in the world.

The Prison Policy Initiative plans to release updated versions of this report each year on Pi Day, March 14.

The report is available at: http://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2016.html

To embed the report’s infographics into your website or blog, copy and paste the following code:

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New report finds electronic messaging in prisons and jails is a product of questionable value at inflated prices

January 21, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 21, 2016

Contact:
Bernadette Rabuy
brabuy [at] prisonpolicy.org

report thumbnailEasthampton, MA — Given the extreme distances that separate incarcerated people from their families, technological innovations that allow more frequent and faster communication between incarcerated people and their families would be a welcome improvement. A new report by the Prison Policy Initiative finds that while many facilities are still stuck in the last century, the growing number of facilities experimenting with electronic messaging are all too often providing incarcerated people and their families a product of questionable value at inflated prices.

The report, You’ve Got Mail: The promise of cyber communication in prisons and the need for regulation, analyzes the current state of electronic messaging in correctional facilities. The report finds that electronic messaging — which is often referred to as “email for prisoners” — actually has very little in common with the email services available to free-world users. For example:

  • Some electronic messaging systems are “inbound only.” With these systems, free-world users are able to electronically send a message to an incarcerated person, but the incarcerated person must respond with a handwritten letter.
  • While email is free for those of us in the free-world, private companies charge incarcerated people and their families anywhere from 5¢ to $1.25 per message to communicate electronically.

“Calling the electronic messaging offered to incarcerated people and their families ‘email’ would be an insult to email,” explains Stephen Raher, author of You’ve Got Mail. “Once again, it seems that the prison phone giants are providing more of the same old exploitation rather than providing true innovation.”

The report builds on the Prison Policy Initiative’s work uncovering the previously hidden prison and jail phone industry and exposing the harmful trend of video visits replacing traditional in-person jail visits. The report was submitted to the Federal Communications Commission in response to its request for comments on advanced communication services in prisons and jails and provides the FCC with nine recommendations. The report also offers seven other recommendations for legislators, state public utility commissions, and correctional administrators, all with an eye toward transforming electronic messaging from a poorly designed and expensive technology to a fair and reasonable tool for communication.

You’ve Got Mail: The promise of cyber communication in prisons and the need for regulation is a collaboration between Prison Policy Initiative and pro bono legal analyst Stephen Raher of the organization’s Young Professionals Network. Stephen’s previous work with the Prison Policy Initiative provided a first-of-its-kind analysis of high-fee release cards.

The report is available at: http://www.prisonpolicy.org/messaging/report.html

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U.S. locks up more than 2.3 million people in prisons, jails, and other facilities on any given day. New report provides foundation for long overdue conversation about criminal justice reform.

December 8, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 8, 2015

Contact:
Bernadette Rabuy
brabuy [at] prisonpolicy.org

Easthampton, MA — With 2.3 million people locked up in more than 7,000 correctional facilities operated by thousands of agencies, getting the big picture is anything but easy. Today, with the publication of Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2015, the Prison Policy Initiative provides the answer to how many people are locked up in the U.S., where, and why. Building upon our groundbreaking 2014 report that, for the first time, aggregated the disparate systems of confinement, this updated version contains further detail on why people are locked up:

pie chart showing the number of people locked up on a given day in the United States by facility type and the underlying offense using the newest data available in December 2015

As we discuss in our report, looking at the “whole pie” allows us to cut through the fog to answer key questions such as:

  • After state prisons, what is the next biggest slice of confinement?
  • How does the number of people that cycle through correctional facilities in a year differ from the number of people locked up on a particular day?
  • How important is it to ending mass incarceration that we reform the policies that increasingly detain people pretrial?
  • How many people nationwide are imprisoned because their most serious offense was a drug offense?
  • How does the number of people in correctional facilities compare to the even larger number of people on probation and parole?

Armed with the big picture, Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2015, gives the public and policymakers the foundation to now consider the types of changes that would end the country’s reign as the number one incarcerator in the world.

The report is available at: http://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2015.html

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Report reveals that every US state incarcerates women at higher rate than most countries, shows growth of women's incarceration in the US over the last century.

November 18, 2015

report thumbnailEasthampton MA — How does your state compare to the international community when it comes to incarcerating women? Not very well, says a new infographic and report from the Prison Policy Initiative.

The report, “States of Women’s Incarceration: The Global Context,” shows that every American state is out of step with the rest of the world.

While there are important differences in the extent and rate at which different U.S. states incarcerate women, there are also differences between how American states, and the country as a whole, compare with most other nations in their propensity to incarcerate women.

“Our analysis shows that even states which seem to incarcerate women less than others in the U.S. are in fact incredibly punitive once that isolationist worldview is broadened,” said Aleks Kajstura, Legal Director of the Prison Policy Initiative. “Every single state incarcerates women at a rate that far exceeds international norms.”

This report is the first to directly put individual U.S. states’ rates of incarcerating women in the global context. The report draws on international statistics from the London-based Institute for Criminal Policy Research, state-level data from the U.S. Census Bureau for interstate and international incarceration comparisons, and historical data from various sources for a detailed look at the U.S.’s past record on women’s incarceration.

The Prison Policy Initiative found that nearly 30% of the world’s incarcerated women are imprisoned in the U.S. even though only 5% of the world’s women live here. Overall, with the exception of Thailand and the U.S. itself, the top 44 jurisdictions throughout the world with the highest rate of incarcerating women are individual American states.

In Illinois, the incarceration rate for women is on par with El Salvador, where abortion is illegal and women are jailed for having miscarriages. New Hampshire is on the same level as Russia, and New York with Rwanda.

“The statistics revealed by this report are simple and staggering” the report concludes. “They suggest that states cannot remain complacent about how many women they incarcerate. Women should be a mainstay of any state policy discussions on the economical and effective use of incarceration if we hope to incarcerate fewer women.”

The non-profit, non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative produces cutting edge research to expose the broader harm of mass incarceration, and then sparks advocacy campaigns to create a more just society. This report was prepared by Aleks Kajstura, Legal Director of the Prison Policy Initiative, and Russ Immarigeon, an independent researcher and editor of the two-volume set, Women and Girls in the Criminal Justice System: Policy Strategies and Program Options (Civic Research Institute, 2006, 2011).

For further information, contact Aleks Kajstura at akajstura [at] prisonpolicy.org.

Links:

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New report finds great distances discourage prison visits

October 20, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 20, 2015

Contact:
Bernadette Rabuy
(413) 527-0845

report thumbnailEasthampton, MA — Less than a third of people in state prison receive a visit from a loved one in a typical month, puts forth a new report by the Prison Policy Initiative, Separation by Bars and Miles: Visitation in state prisons. The report finds that distance from home is a strong predictor for whether an incarcerated person receives a visit.

“For far too long, the national data on prison visits has been limited to incarcerated parents. We use extensive yet under-used Bureau of Justice Statistics data to shed light on the prison experience for all incarcerated people, finding that prisons are lonely places,” said co-author Bernadette Rabuy, who recently used the same BJS dataset for Prisons of Poverty: Uncovering the pre-incarceration incomes of the imprisoned.

Separation by Bars and Miles finds that most people in state prison are locked up over 100 miles from their families and that, unsurprisingly, these great distances — as well as the time and expense required to overcome them — actively discourage family visits. Given the obvious reluctance of state prison systems to move their facilities, the report offers six correctional policy recommendations that states can implement to protect and enhance family ties. Rabuy explained, “At this moment, as policymakers are starting to understand that millions of families are victims of mass incarceration, I hope this report gives policymakers more reasons to change the course of correctional history.”

The report focuses on incarcerated people in state prisons and is a collaboration between Prison Policy Initiative staff and data scientist Daniel Kopf of the organization’s Young Professionals Network.

The report is available at: http://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/prisonvisits.html

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