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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Incarceration and Economic mobility in the United states

Two sociologists, Dr. Bruce Western (a professor of sociology and director of a multidisciplinary program at Harvard Kennedy School) and Dr. Becky Pettit (an associate professor of sociology at the University of Washington) are co-authors of a new study concerning the relationship between Incarceration and Economic Mobility. These two sociologists indicate in their research study, which is entitled,

"Collateral Costs:Incarceration's Effect on Economic Mobility"
and which you can read in pdf file format at:

"Over the past 30 years, the United States has experienced explosive growth in its
incarcerated population. The Pew Center on the States reported in 2008 that more
than 1 in 100 adults is now behind bars in America, by far the highest rate of any
nation.1 The direct cost of this imprisonment boom, in dollars, has been staggering:
state correctional costs quadrupled over the past two decades and now top $50 billion a year, consuming 1 in every 15 general fund dollars."

The authors point out  that "42 percent of Americans whose parents were in the bottom fifth of the income ladder remain there themselves as adults.5 As for race, blacks are significantly more downwardly mobile than whites: almost half of black children born to solidly middle income parents tumble to the bottom of the income distribution in adulthood, while just 16 percent of whites experience such a fall."

So much for the opportunity for upward mobility in the United States if you are a member of a certain race!

The major focus of this research I have mentioned was to answer the following question:

To what extent does incarceration create lasting barriers to economic progress for formerly incarcerated people, their families and their children?

One would think that these variables are not related, however these sociologists indicate that indeed they do have a correlation!

These two sociologists state:

"Currently 2.3 million Americans are behind bars, equaling more than 1 in 100 adults.Up from just 500,000 in 1980, this marks more than a 300 percent increase in the United States’ incarcerated population and represents the highest rate of incarceration in the world... in the face of gaping budget shortfalls, more than half of the states are now seeking alternative sentencing and corrections strategies that cost less than prison, but can protect public safety and hold offenders accountable.
A less explored fiscal implication of incarceration is its impact on former inmates’ economic opportunity and mobility. Economic mobility, the ability of individuals and families to move up the income ladder over their lifetime and across generations, is the epitome of the American Dream.Incarceration affects an inmate’s path to prosperity. Collateral Costs quantifies the size of
that effect, not only on offenders but on their families and children. Before being
incarcerated more than two-thirds of male inmates were employed and more than half were the primary source of financial support for their children. Incarceration carries significant and enduring economic repercussions for the remainder of the person’s working years. This report finds that former inmates work fewer weeks each year, earn less money and have limited upward mobility. These costs are borne by offenders families and communities, and they reverberate across generations. (!!)

Wow, what a statement has been made concerning exactly what is not happening to people when they are incarcerated:they certainly are not receiving training or skills which can help them achieve some level of financial stability and well-being  through  what these sociologists call "legitimate"  employment when they finish being incarcerated!!

 Some very disturbing facts have been revealed by these sociologists concerning the racist nature of the United States penal system:

The research of  Western and Pettit indicates:

"One in 87 working-aged white men is in prison or jail, compared with 1 in 36
Hispanic men and 1 in 12 African American men."
•"More young (20 to 34-year-old) African American men without a high school
diploma or GED are currently behind bars (37 percent) than employed (26

ECONOMIC PROSPECTS." These sociologists provide the following statistics to support this assertion of theirs:

• Serving time reduces hourly wages for men by approximately 11 percent, annual
employment by 9 weeks and annual earnings by 40 percent.
• By age 48, the typical former inmate will have earned $179,000 less than if he had
never been incarcerated.
• Incarceration depresses the total earnings of white males by 2 percent, of Hispanic males by 6 percent, and of black males by 9 percent. "

"Of the former inmates who were in the lowest fifth of the male earnings distribution in 1986, two-thirds remained on the bottom rung in 2006, twice the number of those who were not incarcerated."

" Only 2 percent of previously incarcerated men who started in the bottom fifth of the earnings distribution made it to the top fifth 20 years later, compared to 15 percent
of men who started at the bottom but were never incarcerated"

Not only do these persons who have left the penal system suffer, the research indicates the families of these persons also are adversely affected! These researchers have discovered the following about the the families of those who have
just been released from incarceration:

"Previous research has shown that having a parent incarcerated hurts children, both
educationally and financially. Children with fathers who have been incarcerated are significantly more likely than other children to be expelled or suspended from school (23 percent compared with 4 percent). Family income averaged over the years a father is incarcerated is 22 percent lower than family income was the year before a father is incarcerated. Even in the year after the father is released, family income remains 15 percent lower than it was the year before incarceration.

• Both education and parental income are strong indicators of children’s future
economic mobility

 What do these two sociologists conclude from their research? Western and Pettit

"Drawn disproportionately from the poorly educated and the marginally employed, the millions of people in American jails and prisons faced poor mobility prospects before they entered the prison walls. But by the time they leave, this research finds, they face even smaller chances of finding and keeping jobs and moving up the income ladder. The detrimental impact of incarceration on mobility merits particular attention because of the explosive growth of jails and prisons over the past three decades. With so many people and families affected, and with such concentration of the impacts among young, poorly educated men from disadvantaged neighborhoods, discussions of mobility in America must include reference to crime policy and the criminal justice system."

"Further, the findings presented here foreshadow a disconcerting trend
for the economic mobility prospects of the 2.7 million children who
currently have an incarcerated parent. If previous mobility patterns of
“stickiness” at the bottom of the income ladder continue, children of
incarcerated parents, who are more likely to begin on the bottom rung of the ladder and more likely to struggle in school and experience turmoil in their families, will find themselves in a similar economic position as adults."

Clearly these sociologists suggest their is a huge problem with the manner in which prisons deal with their populations, especially relating to what kinds of skills, training are being provided to persons incarcerated in American penal institutions!
If Americans leaving a penal institution after serving their sentence have no potential to achieve financial self-sufficiency through the possible careers they can obtain and retain once they are outside of prison, then what I ask is the purpose of these penal institutes and in whose interests are they looking out for? Certainly they do not appear to be looking out for the interests of those who are  incarcerated and will one day be expected to leave these institutions and be self-sufficient economically,nor do these institutions seem to be considering the impact this incarceration has on the family of  the incarcerated person!

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Thoughts worth thinking about

"Our subconscious minds have no sense of humor, play no jokes and cannot tell the difference between reality and an imagined thought or image. What we continually think about eventually will manifest in our lives."-Sidney Madwed

Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every woman and man present their views without penalty, there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.- Albert Einstein Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. - Leo Buscaglia

A person's true wealth is the good he or she does in the world. - Mohammed

Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. -Albert Einstein

The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others. - Ghandi

The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves. - Helen Keller

Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make yourself a happier and more productive person. - Dr. David M. Burns

Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures. -His Holiness The Dalai Lama

Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it. -

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That's the essence of inhumanity. -George Bernard Shaw

Ego's trick is to make us lose sight of our interdependence. That kind of ego-thought gives us a perfect justification to look out only for ourselves. But that is far from the truth. In reality we all depend on each other and we have to help each other. The husband has to help his wife, the wife has to help the husband, the mother has to help her children, and the children are supposed to help the parents too, whether they want to or not.-Gehlek Rinpoche Source: "The Best Buddhist Writing 2005 pg. 165

The hostile attitude of conquering nature ignores the basic interdependence of all things and events---that the world beyond the skin is actually an extension of our own bodies---and will end in destroying the very environment from which we emerge and upon which our whole life depends.