Residents of D.C. will no longer have their driver’s licenses automatically suspended for drug offenses completely unrelated to driving. Not that it ever made sense to do so in the first place.
The new law ending the practice passed back in November with unanimous support from the D.C. Council and the Mayor. Then, because all D.C. laws must be vetted by Congress, implementation of the law was delayed until last month.
But it’s never too late to reform these old, outdated rules around license suspensions. How did D.C. end up in this mess in the first place? These odd laws were a product of the War on Drugs, when states were eager to pile on any sort of penalties for drug offenses. In 1991 Congress started supporting automatically suspending driver’s licenses for drug offenses, and states (and D.C.) jumped on the idea.
The decades since have proven that such tactics are ineffective as deterrents. And not only do these laws not work, but they actually cause harm: Suspending driver’s licenses for non-traffic offenses decreases public safety on the road while increasing recidivism for those affected. So at the very least, taxpayers are spending a lot of money on making themselves less safe.
According to the authors, boys born into families at the bottom 10% of the income distribution are 20 times more likely to experience prison in their 30’s than their peers born into the top 10%. Although women make up a smaller share of the overall incarcerated population, the relative likelihood that they experience incarceration is similarly structured by early childhood family income.
Their analysis also shows that those who end up in prison disproportionately come from disadvantaged communities of color with high levels of poverty and unemployment. The data helps us recognize how mass incarceration operates as part of a system, funneling poor people of color from segregated neighborhoods into prisons, and eventually, back into society with little ability to gain an economic foothold.
Only about 53% of formerly incarcerated people report making any money – at all – in the formal labor market three years following their release. Part of the reason is that employers are unlikely to hire people with criminal records, despite growing evidence that blanketed discrimination against this population hurts employers.
But as we’ve argued in the past, the focus on the effects of incarceration sometimes overshadows how pre-incarceration poverty and opportunity structures determine who ends up behind bars in the first place. Report authors Adam Looney and Nicholas Turner, however, show that three years prior to incarceration, only about 49% of working-age people are employed, typically making less than $15,000 a year.
We often talk about reentry as an opportunity for incarcerated people to take advantage of some imagined second chance at life. Yet, this research suggests that the contemporary cultural framing around second chances is misleading at best. Many incarcerated people never received a fair first chance at economic mobility, never mind a second one.
A staggering 731,000 people are held in local jails across the U.S. every day. But the real impact of jails is actually far greater: People go to jail 10.6 million times each year. We collaborated with data journalist and illustrator Mona Chalabi to visualize just how vast a number 10.6 million jail admissions is.
Racial biases in the criminal justice system don’t only apply to poor people, according to new research from Harvard, Stanford, and the Census Bureau covered in today’s New York Times:
“Black men raised in the top 1 percent – by millionaires – were as likely to be incarcerated as white men raised in households earning about $36,000.”
This helps explain why even Black boys from affluent families run a greater risk than their white peers of ending up poor. As a separate article in Race and Social Problems noted in 2016, the likelihood of incarceration is higher for Black people than for white people at every economic level. Incarceration also has a crippling effect on wealth accumulation, ensuring long-lasting damage to individuals, families, and communities of color.
While it’s critical that we explore the relationship between incarceration and poverty, it’s not so helpful to suggest that mass incarceration is driven by class “and not race.” As we point out in our Whole Pie report, the goal should be to implement reforms that both reduce the number of people incarcerated in the U.S. and the well-known racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system.
Easthampton, Mass. – Are there 1.3 million people behind bars in the U.S., or is it actually closer to 2.3 million? How many millions more are on probation or parole, one mistake away from ending up back behind bars? The country’s fragmented systems of confinement make answering basic questions about mass incarceration unnecessarily difficult. With this year’s updated edition of Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie, we once again answer the essential questions of how many people are locked up, where, and why.
The first of 11 infographics that give the big picture and the details on who is behind bars, where, and why.
The publication of the new report caps a year-long effort to update the public on the major drivers of incarceration–state prisons and local jails–as well as confined populations too often overlooked, such as juveniles in residential placement and immigrants in detention.
“The big picture is important,” says author Peter Wagner, noting that many criminal justice reforms simply move people from one part of the system to another. “Ending mass incarceration means shrinking the size of the entire ‘pie,’ and not just rearranging where people are held within it.”
Key findings with important policy implications include:
Jails admitted nearly 11 million people in 2016–enough to fill prison buses lined up end-to-end from New York to San Francisco.
Half a million people are detained in jails before trial every day. In fact, most people in jails are not convicted, and many are there simply because they can’t afford money bail.
The vast number of people incarcerated for low-level offenses include nearly 9,000 youth confined for “technical violations” of probation.
2,300 more youth are locked up for “status” offenses that are not even criminal violations for adults, such as running away or skipping school.
This edition of Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie includes more parts of the system than previous versions of the graphic, not because mass incarceration has expanded, but because we’ve developed a way to offer a more comprehensive view. “We spent the last year collecting data about institutions that may not consider themselves a part of mass incarceration, yet confine thousands of justice-involved people,” said co-author Wendy Sawyer. This update to the report includes more juvenile facilities, adds state psychiatric hospitals, and offers more detailed data on federal corrections.
The United States locks up more people than any other country, at a rate more than five times higher than most other nations. One impediment to reform is the lack of available data to guide that conversation. In Whole Pie, the Prison Policy Initiative provides the comprehensive view of mass incarceration that society needs in order to plot a path forward.
The non-profit, non-partisan 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 leads the nation’s fight to keep the prison system from exerting undue influence on the political process (via prison gerrymandering) and plays a leading role in protecting the families of incarcerated people from the predatory prison and jail telephone industry and the video visitation industry.
In bipartisan effort, Senators Duckworth (D-IL), Portman (R-OH), Booker (D-NJ) and Schatz (D-HI) recently introduced a bill (S.2520) to smooth the road for prison phone and video call regulation.
The bill clarifies that the FCC is required to ensure fair cost to customers, rather than only protecting phone company profits. The bill also clarifies that the FCC’s authority to regulate prison and jail phone calls includes all types of calling technology; this is particularly timely as many of the companies are pushing video calling to circumvent phone call regulation (and monetize visitation).
At under two minutes, this is the shortest and sweetest version of our argument against license suspensions for drug offenses. We made this case in more detail in our report Reinstating Common Sense and in The Washington Post – but you can get the quick and easy version from our Legal Director here:
If you want to take action and live in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, or Virginia, see fact sheets and active legislation on our Driver’s License Suspensions page.
2017 was an important year for the movement to protect in-person visits in correctional facilities. Media outlets, grassroots organizations, and policymakers across the country spoke out and created real change that will positively impact the lives of incarcerated people and their families for years to come. And although there is much work still to be done, it appears that 2018 is already off to a strong start with new legislation introduced in New Jersey and policy changes in California.
New Jersey Assembly Bill 1025, introduced by Representatives Gordon Johnson and Elizabeth Maher Smith, would guarantee in-person family visits for incarcerated individuals, cap video costs at 11 cents a minute, and ban fees on professional video visits from lawyers and clergy. The bill will soon be heard in the legislature’s law and public safety committees.
Over in California, the Board of State and Community Corrections, an independent agency charged with ensuring correctional facility standards, recently approved revisions to its regulations of California juvenile facilities including that they “may provide access to technology as an alternative, but not as a replacement, to in-person visitation.” According to a press release, the BSCC will makes its final edits and the public will have a final opportunity to comment before the regulations become final.
If approved, the new policies in New Jersey and California would chip away at the inhumane treatment of both adults and youths held in correctional facilities. The Prison Policy Initiative supports these efforts and encourages lawmakers in other states to implement similar policies in order to protect incarcerated people from the exploitative nature of the video calling industry.
Easthampton, Mass. – A map of juvenile justice in America would be daunting, covering 1,852 youth facilities of varying restrictiveness, not to mention thousands of youth held in adult prisons and jails. Youth Confinement: The Whole Pie offers a comprehensive view of this system, breaking down where and why justice-involved youth are locked up.
In a series of graphics, the report reveals how tens of thousands of youths who could be better served in their communities still end up in confinement. Far from confining “only those youth who are serious, violent, or chronic offenders,” as the juvenile justice system purports to do, this country:
Locks up 8,500 youths every day for technical probation violations
Detains over 9,000 youths before they’re even tried – and holds 900 in long-term secure facilities, essentially prisons, before they’ve been committed
Locks up over 7,500 youths for other low-level offenses, including status offenses (behaviors for which an adult would not be prosecuted)
Youths held pretrial or for minor offenses comprise 1 in 3 held in confinement today – children and adolescents who could be released at virtually no threat to public safety.
The report explores some of the worst harms of excessive youth confinement, including:
Disproportionately punishing Black and Native youth, with disparities exceeding even those of the adult justice system
Confining most youth in facilities indistinguishable from jails and prisons – or in actual adult jails and prisons
Holding youth in “temporary” reception/diagnostic centers for months or even years
The big-picture view offered by Youth Confinement: The Whole Pie suggests opportunities for immediate reform, such as transferring youth to community-based programs and drastically curtailing pretrial detention. “For advocates working to find alternatives to incarceration,” says report author Wendy Sawyer, “ending youth confinement should be a top priority.”
One of the overlooked findings of last week’s Jail Inmates in 2016 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics was that the number of youth locked up in adult jails grew over the year prior. The number of youth locked up with adults overall remains on the decline, but the new data shows how much further we still need to go:
Despite a significant decline in the number of youth incarcerated in jails since the peak in 1999, there are still more youths in jail than there were in 1990. And the most recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that the number of jailed youths actually went up in 2016.
As our new report Youth Confinement: The Whole Pie discusses, most detained youth are held in various youth-specific facilities, but one in ten are held in adult facilities. To support the new report, I’ve been collecting the data and exploring why youth end up in adult facilities and what happens to them once they do.
In some states, seventeen-year-old youths are automatically prosecuted as adults. In other states, certain offenses automatically require adult prosecution, and some states give prosecutors and the courts discretion to try youths as adults. Thirty-one states have “once an adult, always an adult” policies, which mandate that if someone under eighteen has ever been charged as an adult, all of their future cases must also be handled in the adult system.
Thirty years ago, there were 2,300 kids held in adult jails. From 1990 to 1999, youth jail populations increased by 311%, peaking at 9,458. That number then began to decline, culminating in a 2016 population of 3,700, still far more than the already-high 1990 number.
The data for prisons, available from 2000 forward, follows a pattern of consistent decrease. 3,892 kids were confined in adult prisons in 2000; by 2016 this number had fallen to 956 — still far too high.
The decline in number of youths in adult facilities represents a more general decline in the number of youths coming into contact with the criminal justice system. Between 2005 and 2014, the number of youths arrested dropped by 51.2%; similarly, between 1997 and 2013, the number confined in correctional facilities dropped by 48%. Some of the decline in youth incarceration, however, is the result of youths aging out of the statistics but remaining behind bars for crimes committed before they were eighteen.
Much of the general decline in youth confinement in adult facilities is the result of legal and legislative changes brought about by youth-focused criminal justice advocacy. In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled in Roper v. Simmons that imposing the death penalty for a crime committed while the offender was under eighteen violates the Constitution. In doing so, the court established the principle that children cannot be held to the same standards of responsibility as adults, nor can their actions be considered evidence of an “irretrievably depraved character.” This decision established the legal precedent for rollbacks of mandatory life sentences for juveniles and other policies that kept youth imprisoned.
States have also been taking independent legislative action, including raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction. Since juvenile courts are more likely to hand down sentences other than confinement, these laws reduce the number of people under eighteen who end up in jail or prison. State legislatures have also focused on delinquency prevention efforts, creating intervention programs for at risk-youth and diversion programs for nonviolent offenders.
While these legislative decisions are steps in the right direction, they still leave thousands of children in adult facilities, condemning them to countless long-term harms. The 2006 Justice Policy Institute report The Dangers of Detention summarizes the academic research on the harms of incarcerating youth in juvenile facilities, and shows that putting kids in cages:
slows the natural process of aging out of delinquency,
exacerbates any existing mental illnesses,
increases the odds of recidivism,
reduces the chances of returning to school, and
diminishes success in the labor market.
Incarcerating youth in adult facilities is even more harmful than incarcerating them with people their own age. Of all incarcerated people, youth held with adults are at the highest risk of sexual abuse; they are also 36 times more likely to commit suicide than youth in juvenile facilities, and are at a greater risk of being held in solitary confinement than they would be in juvenile facilities.
These devastating and life-long effects come as the result of decisions made before age eighteen — an age when, according to research, youths’ brains are still years away from full development. This research further legitimizes the Supreme Court’s argument that children shouldn’t be held to the same standards of responsibility as adults. With that in mind, there’s absolutely no reason to punish them as adults.
Black and brown youth face a significantly higher chance of being held as adults than do white youth, an unjust disparity reflective of the racism that permeates the entire criminal justice system. According to the Campaign for Youth Justice, Black youth are 8.6 times more likely than their white peers to receive an adult prison sentence, while Latino youth are 40% more likely than white youth to be admitted to adult prison. These disparities reinforce those in the rest of the system by disproportionately subjecting youth of color to the harms of being incarcerated with adults.
Groups like the Campaign for Youth Justice and the Children’s Defense Fund are fighting against youth confinement in adult facilities by spearheading campaigns to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction, advocating humane alternatives to confinement, and opposing policies that automatically place youths in the adult system. These are common sense reforms that should already be the law.