Prison populations across the country continue to swell, according to a new report by the US Department of Justice. While some lawmakers clamor for more prisons to alleviate the over-crowding, a growing movement of community groups is calling for a rethinking of the country’s prison policy. Darby Hickey has more from DC
94% of prisons & jails in the US are at or over capacity, and the number of people incarcerated around the country increased by about 3.5% annually from 1995-2004. That from a new report issued by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, which Paige Harrison helped to author.
[sound – There’s a lot of things contributing to the continued growth in the prison and jail system. Some of it is that we’re bringing more people in than we’re releasing, we’re keeping them for longer periods of times, and upon release, we’ve changed some of our release policies as far as parole, type of release, and revocation, so we have more parole violators coming back as well.]
Federal rates increased by much more than state incarceration numbers says Harrison, driven by drug-related offenses. Although the numbers continue to rise, the tide is starting to turn against pro-prison policies, says Zein El-Amine, a member of Critical Resistance DC, an organization that opposes prisons.
[sound – On the one hand you have this increase in incarceration, you have the cutting back of social services that results in more incarceration, but on the other hand you have prominent conservatives who are raising the alarm about this increase in incarceration and the skewed priorities]
Critical Resistance is one of many groups across the country that are mobilizing in communities to stop new prisons and criminalization, which they say disparately impacts people of color. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report, about 60% of people in prisons and jails are people of color.
[sound - We know that as long as there is prisons, they’re gonna find somebody to put in the prisons. So what are we gotta do? Shut ‘em down!]
Cory Hicks is a member of Families & Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, or FLIC, another community group that has celebrated organizing victories in the past year.
[sound – And so that’s what we did we shut down the Tallulah correctional facility]
In addition to the over 2 million people incarcerated in prisons and jails, the authors of the report note that another 110 thousand juveniles are in detention but not included in the report.
[sound – FLIC with the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana was instrumental in the first step in changing what used to be a completely horrific, violent, facility and its now in the process of being turned into a learning center, with a community college at its core. When this happens, it will be the first prison to school conversion in the entire nation.]
For Free Speech Radio News I’m Darby Hickey of the DC Radio Coop