Wednesday, February 18, 2015

why so many behind bars in the U.S.?

Judy Woodruff of PBS NewsHour interviews Nicholas Turner, president and director of the Vera Institute of Justice, and Margo Schlanger from the University of Michigan, about the high rates of incarceration in the United States.

The interview makes the same point I make here, that we need to find ways to stop putting people behind bars.
JUDY WOODRUFF: A new report finds that more Americans than ever are spending time in jail. The Vera Institute of Justice showed that, in the past two decades, despite a drop in the crime rate, the number of people going to jail has increased dramatically. 
In addition, those behind bars are staying longer. Some 62 percent of them have not yet been convicted of a crime, and three-quarters of those jailed now are brought in for nonviolent offenses. The report also finds that a disproportionate number of those in jail suffer from mental illness.
This surprised me. Sixty-two percent of those in jail have not even been convicted yet. Why so many stuck in jail while waiting for trial?
NICHOLAS TURNER: ...about 60 percent of them are still locked up without having been convicted yet, so they’re presumed innocent — a large percent of them are locked up or are unable to get released because they can’t post bail.

So take New York City, for example, where in 2013 half of everyone who was at Rikers or some of the other detention facilities were there because they couldn’t post low rates of bail, $2,500 or less.
Our jails are overcrowded because poor people arrested for non-violent crimes can't afford bail, not because the world is full of so many dangerous criminals. Remember that most of these are people arrested for misdemeanors.

Those convicted of felonies end up in prison. How to reduce the prison population?
MARGO SCHLANGER: Solving the prison problem, the problem for people who have been convicted of felonies, that will take a more varied kind of set interventions. But I think it’s really — right now is a great moment for us to try to make those interventions. 
... We could — we need to do parole and probation reform. We need to do the reform of the system that allows prisoners good-time credit off their sentences if they are behaving themselves in prison. We need to do community corrections kinds of reform, so that prosecutors have some place to send people when they — so that they don’t just send them to prison because it’s the only option.
Schlanger and Turner also talk about why so many mentally ill people end up in jail or prison.

Reducing the number of people behind bars in the United States will require legislators to stand up and do the right thing, even when it is unpopular.

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