On April 23, Pres. Obama stated that the annual cost for incarcerating defendants and inmates has become too costly for the American economy. Annually, we spend 80 billion dollars on our local, state, and federal prisons. The United States has 25% of the world’s inmates and only 5% of the world’s population. We have more prisons and jails than China and Russia combined.
Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, in Friday’s New York Times, described the growth of the U.S. prison population “staggering.” Furman noted that repeat-offender laws and other stricter sentencing rules contributed to our massive growth of inmates. He noted that new studies revealed that “many of those provisions do not appear to have a deterrent effect,”on crime.
Obama stated nearly 60 percent of the country’s 2.2 million prisoners have serious mental health problems and that about 70 percent are in need of drug treatment. Many of the mentally ill inmates and prisoners with addictions were charged or convicted of nonviolent offenses. For example, Texas has hundreds of mentally ill men and women locked up in jails because there are no beds available at state mental hospitals. Nonviolent inmates suffering from serious mental health issues are easy prey for violent inmates.
Pres. Obama has made criminal justice reform one of his presidential priorities. He has launched new policies to help the more than 600,000 inmates released from our jails and prisons annually to become “productive, contributing members of their families and communities.”
The White House has called for companies to join “The Fair Chance Business Pledge.” Major companies including Facebook, Uber, Starbucks, The Hershey Company and Coca-Cola have pledged to help released inmates find jobs by changing their approach to job applications. They have agreed to delay questions on job applications about an applicant’s criminal record until it can be “considered in context.” The job applicant, at the interview, would have an opportunity to explain his record, life experiences, and what he or she can offer the company.
Reformation of our broken system of criminal justice is long overdue not only for humanitarian reasons, but also for our national economic health.
By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com