The Cycle of Incarceration, and the Inequality it Brings

The US has a prison problem. We imprison considerably more people than any other Western nation; not just per capita, but in absolute numbers. According to the Department of Justice, as of 2012, there were approximately 2.2 million people in jail or prison in the United States - that’s 730 people per 100,000. Many of the incarcerated are imprisoned for nonviolent offenses and those with mental health or substance problems rarely get the treatment they need ‘inside’. This level of imprisonment also leads to an even bigger problem  a cycle of poverty in impacted communities that continues to lead to further hardship and inequality.

In a recent study, it was found that formerly incarcerated youth found it almost impossible to increase their earning power after their release. These limits are found to exist even decades after release, and contribute greatly to the growing income gap between the richest and poorest in the United States.

And the ramifications of this affects more than just the imprisoned, but also their children and families. The children of those who were imprisoned grow up in resource-poor communities, and struggle to create opportunities for themselves as they grow older, as shown in Incarceration and Social Inequality. This means an entire family can be kept in poverty, and will lead to a continuing economic gap in society today.

This imposes a steep price on society and taxpayers, who now have to continue to pay for the increasing numbers of people incarcerated today. The state of California spends more on locking up its residents than providing for its higher education system. According to a study by California Common Sense, a nonpartisan public policy group, in 2011, California spent roughly $4 billion more on prisons than it did on universities, vocational schools, and other forms of higher education. Clearly, something has to be done to enact change.

Pursuing such change is the basis of the Inside/Out Project. This project is bringing the voices of those who have been affected by incarceration into the conversation about how to solve our incarceration crisis. The Inside/Out Project creates a platform for these individuals to voice their opinions, thoughts, and concerns in constructive ways. Our pilot project in San Diego County brought to light some great rehabilitative work that is going on in the FAiR Dorm at Las Colinas Detention Center. By challenging some of the stereotypes of who is incarcerated while bringing effective models to light, the Inside/Out Project is helping those who want to push for change and know what to push for.