About the film: Incarcerating US is a documentary film illustrating how the purpose of prison has changed dramatically in the U.S. With 2.3 million people behind bars, the U.S. has more prisoners than anywhere else in the world. The rate of incarceration in the U.S. has more than quadrupled over the past thirty years. The social and economic costs of the extremely high imprisonment rate demonstrate the need to reassess and make drastic changes to the current system.
The shift towards longer and more rigid sentencing policies in conjunction with the War on Drugs fueled the explosion in the prison population. Political incentives divert scarce resources away from those who are truly a danger to society to those that commit nonviolent drug offenses.
Through the eyes and experiences of people involved with the prison system, this film will show why many agree that the current system is a counterproductive mess. In a penetrating look, it will include interviews with policy experts, attorneys, judges, corrections officials, current and former inmates, former police officers, and reform advocates. It will explore the vested interests that benefit from the current model and reveal how they obstruct reform efforts. With a greater understanding of the history and policies that created the largest prison population in the history of the world, we can foster a more humane criminal justice system and reduce the social and economic costs to the nation.
IS THE CURRENT CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM DESIGNED TO HELP PEOPLE STAY OUT OF PRISON UPON REENTRY? THOSE WITH FELONY CONVICTIONS HAVE THEIR DOUBTS. A STUDY CONDUCTED FROM 2005 TO 2010 BY THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE FOUND THAT OUT OF 404,638 STATE PRISONERS RELEASED IN 30 STATES IN 2005, 76.6 PERCENT WERE ARRESTED AGAIN WITHIN FIVE YEARS. PHOTO BY XIAO ZHENG/FLICKR COMMONS.
“Divine mercy reminds us that prisons are an indication of the kind of society we are,” Pope Francis said earlier this year from inside a prison in Juarez, Mexico. “We have already lost many decades thinking and believing that everything will be resolved by isolating, separating, incarcerating and ridding ourselves of problems, believing that these policies really solve problems.”
By this logic, it might be hard for Francis to view America as the “Land of the Free” considering it houses 25 percent of the world’s prison population, despite being home to only 5 percent of the people on Earth. In 2015, when Francis addressed inmates at a prison while visiting Philadelphia, he spoke to the ailments of a society that struggles to lend forgiveness. “It is painful when we see prison systems which are not concerned to care for wounds, to soothe pain, to offer new possibilities,” he said. “It is painful when we see people who think that only others need to be cleansed, purified, and do not recognize that their weariness, pain and wounds are also the weariness, pain and wounds of society.”
Forty-six states made at least 201 changes to their laws on sentencing and corrections in 2014 and 2015, an “increase in pace” since an analysis of state changes three years ago, reports the New York-based Vera Institute of Justice. The Vera report said most of the state actions focused on three stages of the criminal justice system: creating or expanding diversion of people from entering the system; reducing prison populations by making some offenses eligible for community-based sentences, reducing the length and severity of sentences, adding early release options, reducing the number of people re-admitted for violating probation or parole, and supporting prisoner reentry into the community.
Vera singled out several legislative trends in criminal justice reform. In the bail area, several states have addressed the overuse of pretrial detention, especially for those unable to make bail. Some states are enacting legislation to waive some fees for defendants, allow payment plans for restitution, and limit the use of incarceration as a penalty for non-payment. To deal with the opioid crisis, some states are passing laws incorporating medical-assisted treatment to supplement existing or new treatment approaches, both in custody and in the community. States also are reducing the use of solitary confinement and improving conditions and treatment for those in solitary.
Washington, D.C. — Holly Harris may wear cowboy boots to work, but the Kentucky mom and Executive Director for the US Justice Action Network (USJAN) is far from your average southerner.
This past Saturday, June 25th, Harris talked about her work to a group of journalists and bloggers who traveled to Washington D.C. from different corners of the country to hear from leaders of the criminal justice reform movement. Harris was the first speaker at FreedomWorks’ #JusticeForAll event, and as the leader of USJAN, she set the tone for what turned out to be a fascinating conference.
The veteran litigator opened her speech by outlining USJAN’s goals, explaining the organization believes “our [criminal] code just doesn’t make sense.” That’s why their “goal is to shrink criminal codes” and “get rid of these unfair, unnecessary duplicative and inconsistent laws.”
But it was something else she told the crowd a few minutes later that got attendees worked up.
“The fastest growing segment of the prison population in America,” Harris articulated, “is women … and nobody is talking about that.”
From a small room in Center City, radio activist Vanessa Graber wants to broadcast the realities of post-prison life to thousands of Philadelphians. Next week, PhillyCam, the public-access media nonprofit, will launch WPPM 106.5. It’s one of three new radio stations created following a grassroots push to carve out more slots on FM dials across the country. Graber’s show — hosted by four women with rap sheets — is one of the programs that will air on the community-centric station, which will also reach parts of North and South Philadelphia, as well as across the river in Camden. It’s believed to be the first radio show about re-entry that’s hosted by women ex-offenders.
One of the most significant obstacles to ending mass incarceration and perpetual punishment is the lack of imagination among Americans about what we can do differently. Current policies have been implemented over the past four and a half decades, so millions of Americans have never seen a different public safety model. To eliminate mass incarceration, Americans must be able to imagine something else. It happens when visionaries plant the seeds of imagination.
The distinction between violent and nonviolent crime is a problematic metric for determining criminal punishment
What is “violent” crime? Perhaps that seems like an easy question – murder is; tax evasion isn’t. But the distinction between violent and nonviolent crime has proven tricky for lawyers, judges and legislators. Policy debates about proper punishments or enforcement too often break down because the various stakeholders get hung up on whether the crime in question is “violent.” If we are serious about addressing mass incarceration and our bloated criminal justice system, it’s time to rethink what counts as violent crime.
How would you react if suddenly hospitals simply replaced in-person patient visitation with video conferencing? Hospital administrators might justify this decision by saying that hospitals are scary places, so it‘s best to protect family members, especially young people, from being traumatized.
The idea that a bureaucracy could so severely restrict a family’s right to see their loved ones might seem unthinkable. However, for the 2.3 million people who were incarcerated in the United States, 744,600 of whom were in jails as of 2014, it could become a reality.
Moreover, there are approximately 5 million children who have an incarcerated parent, and in-person visitation space is essential for these young people to maintain space for family connections and well-being.
In California, the state’s jails have increasingly moved to adopt video visitation in lieu of in-person visitation. Recent estimates put California’s jail population at approximately 74,000. As such, removing in-person visitation has the potential to affect one of the state’s most vulnerable populations: the children of these incarcerated parents.
Juvenile justice advocates receive little glory, but they deserve much credit for the wave of state activity this year aimed at protecting youth from the harms of adult court prosecution.
Consider just a few recent developments in diverse regions of the country. In the last few weeks, legislatures in Louisiana and South Carolina passed bills — awaiting their governors’ signatures — to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18. Michigan will soon vote on a similar bill. In Indiana, lawmakers approved giving youth more chances to avoid adult prosecution. Vermont scaled back prosecutors’ power to “direct file” children in adult court this session, and California Gov. Jerry Brown is backing a ballot initiative this year to eliminate prosecutorial direct file altogether and return discretion for transfer decisions to judges.
The mere thought of sex offenders going to a center in a Gainesville neighborhood for counseling was enough last month to make residents irate and send a city commissioner on a fact-finding mission. The concerns focused on the potential threat to children at the handful of daycare centers in the area of the new treatment site at 1208 NW Sixth St. But one key element has been overlooked in the controversy: The company at the heart of the dispute, The ITM Group, has been quietly treating sex offenders in Gainesville for decades. And according to police records, there are no reports of clients attacking neighbors. Experts say that’s not unusual, for a variety of reasons. For one, the vast majority — 80 percent — of sex offenders know their victims and don’t attack strangers. Also, sex offenders aren’t going to cause trouble where they are seeking treatment because they know they are being watched.