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Today, the massive costs of prisons as the prison population soars are leading America to go broke. But there are some solutions, according to Paul Brakke, the author of American Justice?, a description of a victim’s nightmare and an examination of America’s criminal justice system and how to improve it.
The numbers are staggering. Approximately 1 out of every 32 Americans – about 7.2 million adults are on probation, on parole, or in prison at any given time. Of this number, 2.3 million Americans are in prison, nearly one in every hundred adults. There are more Americans per capita in prison than in any other country, since America has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners. So the US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
The costs of this imprisonment are enormous – over $70 billion annually, so the state governments, who are responsible for most prisons, are increasingly strapped. Ironically, the average cost of keeping a prisoner in prison is often more than simply hiring someone for a part-time or full-time job – ranging from about $14,000 per inmate in some states to $60,000 in other states. Much of the money goes to privatized prisons, which make up over 10% of the corrections market – earning about $7.4 billion a year, according to a recent article on “The Economics of the American Prison System” by Thierry Godard in SmartAsset.com.
Unfortunately, the costs have increased by the growing number of prisoners due to a number of factors, as Brakke discusses in American Justice? Among these reasons for the increase is the decline of the middle class due to the growing inequality in America, leading once good, law-abiding citizens to turn to crime. Another key factor is the fear of crime, given rising crime rates, resulting in stiffer penalties with longer prison sentences. The result is a vicious cycle resulting in more prisoners and more costs.
As Brakke points out, the system is not only poorly equipped to respond to the growing number of criminals who are charged with crimes by the police, but it disproportionately impacts lower income people and people of color, who don’t have the money to defend themselves and consequently are more likely to end up in prison and experience longer sentences. That unfair impact fuels more anger and fear, especially directed towards the police, leading to the deadly police clashes that are splashed across the headlines in newspapers and on the Internet.
The result of this breakdown in the system and in society as a whole has been a paralysis in knowing what to do about it, so Brakke has come up with a number of possible solutions to improve the system, which he describes in American Justice?. For example, one approach to reducing the high incarceration rate is to reduce the length of sentences and use more half-way houses, home detention, community service, and workfare programs for non-violent offenders. Helping the incarcerated find meaningful jobs is an especially good way to direct former criminals from a life of crime to jobs that pay them – instead of hiring the prison industries to house them. Brakke has still other suggestions to deal with the growing conflict between the police and inner city residents, with prosecutorial misconduct, with poor judicial behavior, and with collateral damage to families when a family member is sent to prison.
“I hope this book will help to get a national dialogue going about how to best reform the criminal justice system,” Brakke says. “We need to get the whole community involved, and in the long run this will help everyday citizens, given the cost savings in corrections. By doing so, taxes can go down, and more and more former prisoners will be integrated back into society, so everyone wins.”
Copies of the book are also available in PDF format to members of the press.
For more information, please contact:
TouchPoint Press at firstname.lastname@example.org for multiple copies
Paul Brakke at Brakkep@gmail.com for questions about his experiences with the system.
Paul Brakke at Brakkep@gmail.com or Gini Graham Scott at email@example.com for questions about the system or the book’s relationship to current events