World Population Day: The Incarcerated Population World Population Day was established by the UN in 1990 to spread awareness of population issues and how they impact our environment and development. According to un.org, “Current estimates indicate that roughly 83 million people are being added to the world’s population every year.” That’s a lot of people! And in America, 2.3 million are currently incarcerated, 4.9 million have been formerly incarcerated, 19 million have been convicted of a felony in their lifetimes, 77 million have a criminal record, and a staggering 113 million adult Americans have an immediate family member who has been in prison or jail. That’s more than in any other country. In fact, 1 in 5 people who are incarcerated in the world are incarcerated in the U.S. (Prison Policy Initiative). In Ohio specifically, it is estimated that one in eleven adults have a felony conviction and one in three adults have a criminal record. Does this just mean there are a lot of “bad” people to look out for? As it turns out…
One in five incarcerated people is locked up for a drug offense and 450,000 people are incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses at any given time (Prison Policy Initiative). But what is a drug offense? A drug offense is when an individual violates a law that prohibits the possession, use, distribution, or manufacture of illegal drugs (Prison Fellowship). What counts as an “illegal” drug also depends per state. In Ohio, marijuana, the most common drug, is illegal if not prescribed for medical purposes. Even just the possession of the drug can earn you jail time. In the US, there are over one million drug possession arrests each year. The average prison sentence for people convicted of federal drug offenses is more than 11 years. This is the greatest contributor to the federal prison population. In general, drug penalties at the federal and state levels tend to be disproportionate and overly harsh for the crime, causing good people to be jobless and even homeless after incarceration.
On the other side of that are drug-related offenses. These offenses come from the effect of drugs on individuals either while on the drug or from being motivated by their addiction to the drug. These people are not “bad” people. Many of them suffer from substance abuse disorders and other trauma. At Alvis, we believe the positive alternative to incarceration is to address the issue at the source with rehabilitation and addiction programming. See our Recovery Choices Program and Amethyst Program.
Tied strongly to drug offenses and substance abuse disorders are other mental health disorders. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Multiple national population surveys have found that about half of those who experience a mental illness during their lives will also experience a substance use disorder and vice versa.” Similar to victims of substance abuse disorder, individuals with mental health conditions of any sort are more likely to be involved with the criminal justice system than to seek medical help. In fact, NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Health, states that two million people with mental illness are booked into jails each year and the vast majority are not violent, don’t get convicted, or are serving time for minor crimes. In jail, it is hard for these individuals to receive the treatment they need, making their condition worse, and keeping them locked up for longer than others without a mental health condition. Then, once out of the criminal justice system, a criminal record makes it hard to get a job, find housing, and still leaves them untreated for their condition. Many times, this causes them to end up re-arrested, creating and endless cycle. Again, these individuals are not “bad” people. They deserve second chances, recovery, and treatment for their conditions. Besides Amethyst and Recovery Choices, Alvis also offers SHINE, CHAT, and Belmar Recovery Housing.
It is also notable to mention that 74% of people held by jails are not convicted of any crime. Additionally, people in prison or jail are disproportionally poor compared to America as a whole. Why is this? It all starts with bail. Statistically, high policed areas are low-income with people who can not afford to pay bail. To make a point about this, New Orleans professor Chris Surprenant spoke at the Institute for Humane Studies about mass incarceration and pulled up stats from the local Arlington, Virginia jail saying, “You’ve got 344 people incarcerated. 43% of these folks have not been convicted of anything…That there are any people who can get out if they can only put up that, if they only need to put up a thousand bucks, is a problem because these are people who probably don’t present any danger to the community. If you can get out for a thousand dollars, it means we don’t mind having you out in the community,” (The Institute for Humane Studies). As a result of this time spent in jail and the development of a criminal record, individuals who were already in poverty fall farther into debt and stay in poverty from inability to find a job that will hire them.
Second Chance Citizens
Over 600,000 people transition from prisons back into their communities every year and the unemployment rate among incarcerated people is five times higher than the unemployment rate for the rest of the US. Even greater than in the Great Depression (Prison Policy Initiative). Because so many Americans have a criminal record it is critical to provide second chance citizens with jobs. Not only will employment help these individuals gain economic stability after release, but it reduces the likelihood that they will return to the criminal justice system and promotes greater public safety, benefitting everyone in the long run. The alternative, with the rates of arrests continually climbing in the US and Ohio, more repeat offenders and no employees for hire. It’s time to break the stigma. At Alvis, we believe that everyone deserves a second chance and we offer a variety of reentry programs to help turn people’s lives around from past justice involvement including residential reentry services using the Equip Program (our studies show that 93% of those who completed the Alvis Residential Reentry program and were back in the community for at least one year did not return to the criminal justice system) and workforce development training including H.I.R.E. (Help In Reentry Employment education) and EDGE (Empower Development by Gaining Employment). To learn more about our reentry programs click here or here.
Happy World Population Day!
Alvis is a nonprofit human services agency with over 50 years of experience providing highly effective treatment programs in Ohio. Our vision is that communities value a person’s potential more than their past. For more information on how Alvis can help you or to learn more about how you can get involved, contact us here.