Mass Incarceration: the bane of a nation

America leads the world in incarceration: with only 5% of the world's population, the U.S. is home to 25% of the world's prisoners.  There are over 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States costing taxpayers almost $75 billion a year, with each year of incarceration costing an average of over $31,000 per inmate.  Within three years of release, almost 4 out of 10 of those released return to incarceration.  Despite the large prison population, two-thirds of criminal offenders currently under supervision actually live in the community.  In addition to the adult population within the criminal justice system, there are approximately 4,600 juvenile delinquency cases being heard each day in juvenile courts across the country.  The families and communities that those within the criminal justice system came from are also deeply impacted by incarceration and supervision.  This vast and complex system affects every American in some way. 

Individuals who are involved with the criminal justice system face barriers such as obtaining and retaining a job, finding a place to live, receiving education and vocational training, and accessing mental health and substance abuse resources.  Although there are facilities and organizations in the Saint Louis area providing reentry services, an individual must decide to utilize these services.  Making a life change is hard, and even harder with a criminal record and a lack of purpose.  For many, with no dream, plan, commitment, or measurable goals, good intentions become lost when faced with overwhelming barriers.

We could choose to be a nation that extends care, compassion, and concern to those who are locked up and locked out or headed for prison before they are old enough to vote. We could seek for them the same opportunities we seek for our own children; we could treat them like one of “us.” We could do that. Or we can choose to be a nation that shames and blames its most vulnerable, affixes badges of dishonor upon them at young ages, and then relegates them to a permanent second-class status for life. That is the path we have chosen, and it leads to a familiar place.
— Michelle Alexander, from "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness"