*A new report released by the Pew Charitable trust painted a grim picture of the devastating impact of incarceration on economic mobility for the formerly incarcerated, their families and children.  

According to the report, the income of a former inmate drops roughly 40%.  Given the over-representation of African American and other people of color in our prisons and jails, the collateral cost for these communities is far greater.

According to Pew, incarceration has a disparate impact on men, the young, the uneducated and African Americans.  One in 87 working age young white men is in prison or jail, compared with 1 in 36 Hispanics and 1 in 12 African Americans.  Also, more young African American men (between the ages of 20 – 34) without a high school diploma or GED are currently behind bars (37%) than employed (26%).

In the last several decades, the U.S. prison population has exploded, increasing by 300% since 1980. Today in America, 1 in 100 adults – over 2.3 million people – is behind bars; 2.7 million children have an incarcerated parent and the United States now has the highest prison population in the world.

“The United State’s over-reliance on incarceration and its disparate impact on African Americans and people of color is first and foremost ineffective and unjust,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP.  “It’s also a waste of money that could be better invested elsewhere,” Jealous added.

The Pew report reveals that our spending on corrections has quadrupled in the last two decades: we spend up to $50 billion a year – 1 in every 15 general fund dollar – on corrections.

To drive this point home, last week residents of Marin County California woke up to an NAACP sponsored rolling billboard driving throughout their community and highlighting America’s problem of mass incarceration. The billboard showed that America is 5% of the world population and has 25% of its prisoners. It also showed that in the last 20 years, Californians increased spending on incarceration 20 times more than it did on higher education.  Similar billboards were launched last week in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Birmingham and Richmond, VA.

The purpose of the billboards was to ask voters to call their Senators and ask them to support the National Criminal Justice Commission Act. The Act, sponsored by Senator Jim Webb and currently tied up in the Judiciary committee, calls for a national commission to analyze the effectiveness of the criminal justice system as no such assessment has been done in over five decades.

“We hope that our leadership in Congress acts on these disturbing new findings that have been put forth in the Pew report and votes to pass the National Criminal Justice Act of 2010,” said Steve Hawkins, NAACP Chief Program Officer and Executive Vice President.  “Our criminal justice system is in an obvious crisis, warehousing millions of people – mostly people of color – spending millions of dollars each year without much to show for it. And it’s time to re-examine the entire system and come up with some effective solutions,” Hawkins added.

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.

Leila McDowell
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