The Cost of Jail to America’s Working Population

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at 3:43 pm

This week, the Pew’s Economic Mobility Project is up with an astonishing report on the financial damage incarceration does to inmates and the broader economic opportunity locked up in America’s prisons. The United States currently jails one in every 100 adults — the highest rate in the world. That costs one in every 15 state general fund dollars, more than $50 billion a year.

Jail isn’t just costly to the taxpayer. It’s also costly to the inmate. Time in jail reduces an inmate’s earnings 40 percent, on average. It limits their future economic mobility. And it hurts the fortunes of their children — a lot of children, given that 1 in every 28 has a parent behind bars (including one in nine black children).

“On average, incarceration eliminates more than half the earnings a white man would otherwise have made through age 48, and 41 and 44 percent of the earnings for Hispanic and black men, respectively,” the report says. “Of note, these losses do not include earnings forfeited during incarceration; they reflect instead a sizable lifelong earnings gap between former inmates and those never incarcerated.”

The report also notes that the United States incarcerates so many working-age people — 2.3 million of them — that it distorts the employment and unemployment figures. “[C]onventional methods of assessing employment exclude the men and women behind bars, resulting in an incomplete picture,” the report says. The biggest impact is on the employment-to-population ratio, a way of gauging how economically productive the workforce is. When prisoners are included in the standard calculation, the EPOP changes dramatically. For working-age black men, it falls from 67 to 61 percent. For 20 to 34-year-old black men, it falls from 66 to 58 percent. Jail has become so common for black men, in fact, that they are more likely to be in jail than at work, if they are young and don’t have a high-school diploma.

The flip side of all of this, of course, is that the United States could do a lot of financial good for itself and its citizens if Congress took up prison reform. (Notably, it’s a bipartisan issue, if not a popular one. Fiscal conservatives and social-justice-conscious liberals can get behind it.)

The report has some commonsense recommendations:

  • Proactively reconnect former inmates to the labor market through education and training, job search and placement support and follow-up services to help former inmates stay employed.
  • Enhance former inmates’ economic condition and make work pay by capping the percent of an offenders’ income subject to deductions for unpaid debts (such as court-ordered fines and fees), and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit to include non-custodial, low-income parents.
  • Screen and sort people convicted of crimes by the risks they pose to society, diverting lower-risk offenders into high-quality, community-based mandatory supervision programs.
  • Use earned-time credits, a proven model that offers selected inmates a shortened prison stay if they complete educational, vocational or rehabilitation programs that boost their chances of successful reentry into the community and the labor market.
  • Provide funding incentives to corrections agencies and programs that succeed in reducing crime and increasing employment.
  • Use swift and certain sanctions other than prison, such as short but immediate weekend jail stays, to punish probation and parole violations, holding offenders accountable while allowing them to keep their jobs.

Some states are taking cost-saving reforms into their own hands. Missouri, for instance, gives judges cost-of-sentence guidelines while they are deliberating.

For someone convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, for instance, a judge might now learn that a three-year prison sentence would run more than $37,000 while probation would cost $6,770. A second-degree robber, a judge could be told, would carry a price tag of less than $9,000 for five years of intensive probation, but more than $50,000 for a comparable prison sentence and parole afterward. The bill for a murderer’s 30-year prison term: $504,690.

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Comment posted October 12, 2010 @ 7:18 am

Bishop Eddie L. Long: an open letter from his spiritual son…

Editors’ note: Mark Anthony Mitchell Sr. (2006-Present), is the Senior Pastor of Atlanta Urban Foursquare Church in Atlanta, GA. AUFC is an Inner-city Mission Church of The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel Denomination. He is also the Executive Director of “Jesus for Justice Poor People’s Campaign” a 501©3 community development corporation.

As a once favored son of Bishop Eddie L Long, I have gotten many calls this week from associates near and afar asking me my current thoughts on my spiritual fathers’ current situation. Many have advised me to distance myself from him implying that my acknowledgement of him may be an affront to my character, accountability and integrity. To all of them I gave this startling reply— in street vernacular “If he’s gets no bigger he’s still my ——!” (Father) The germane question to me at the moment is not one of innocence or guilt but of loyalty. One does not have the liberty to choose either their physical or spiritual parents, that is solely determined by our heavenly Father. God’s word is still true “honor your mother and father that your days may be long.” Nowhere does it says only honor them if they are good.

Fortunately, I had the pleasure of having a good spiritual father in the person of Bishop Long. Twenty year ago I came to him as a young man in my darkest hour. I was a former drug runner and convicted felon facing a mandatory 5 – 7 year stretch. Even though I was a Christian and a Morehouse graduate I was still a schoolboy stuck on a life of destruction. Bishop Long gave me a second chance in ministry when no one else would. For ten years (1990 – 2000) my Heavenly Father had me under Bishop’s tutelage and I flourished and bore fruit like never before. Not once out of the 9 years I was on staff, full time at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church was there even a hint of impropriety between Bishop and his members.

He allowed me to pursue my passion for prophetic social justice within Inner- City Atlanta. Soon I became a seller of hope instead of Dope. Eventually Bishop endorsed me to pursue and attend Harvard Divinity School to further my theological training in August 1994. And in June of 1997 I graduated with a Master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School and went back to minister to the same disadvantaged, disenfranchised and discouraged streets Bishop Long had rescued me from.

Even though rumors and innuendos have caused a rift in our father-son relationship over these past 10 years, in his time of greatest needed I dare not be absent but ready to love and serve him in any capacity that I can.

Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge we all should be familiar with the schemes of the devil. Clearly he wants us to focus on the situation at hand and not on him. “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood…., but against the powers of this dark world…”

Whatever the sin issue may or may not be with Bishop, our hatred of that sin should never allow us to hate the sinner also. We are to love the sinner. While I was yet in sin it wasn’t my Heavenly Father’s condemnation and judgment that drove me to repentance and allowed me the chance to be an advocate for the despised and rejected, but God’s love and compassion displayed through Bishop Long.

If you want to assume his guilt then where is the Christian voice of reason standing against the backlash of the secular world’s rush to judgment in the public square declaring Galatians (LB) 6:1-3?

“Dear brothers, if a Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help him back onto the right path, remembering that next time it might be one of you who are in the wrong. Share each other’s troubles and problems, and so obey our Lord’s command. If anyone thinks he is too great to stoop to this, he is fooling himself. He is really a nobody…. Each of us must bear some faults and burdens of his own. For none of us is perfect!”

While not limiting the severity of the given situation, I now wish to explore other pertinent issues that have been ignored under these alleged accusations.

It is easy to judge and condemn Bishop Long, especially for his alleged terrible sexual sins of sodomy involving young boys. And if these allegations are true he should be honest and forthright and take it upon himself to “sit himself down” and seek the spiritual restoration his faith, family and church demands.

But please let us not become side-tracked by Satan’s smoke screen. By concentrating solely on Longs’ moral issues we have totally ignored the greater sin of indifference Satan and his demonic hosts have lured the church into.

In Ezekiel 16: 48-49, (As surely as I live, declares the sovereign Lord, your sister Sodom and her daughters never did what you and your daughter have done. Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned: they did not help the poor and needy.) Ezekiel reminded Judah that Sodom wasn’t destroyed because of sexual immorality but was destroyed because its people were conceited, swaggering and apathetic about the needy people within their reach. This is a word of judgment as relevant to the church today as it was for the people of God then.

Here then is the relevant question we ought to ask: Why was the Longfellow Academy so popular and needed in the first place?

Because the biggest problem affecting the stability of the African American community is not such horrible sins such as adultery, homosexuality, stealing and murder, but is our ignorance and indifference to our current state of “FATHERLESSNESS.”

Traditional views state that the primary reason for the lack of fathers in the black community is due to our men’s lack of taking personal responsibility for our women and children.

I beg to differ; researched study has shown the stereotype of black men being poor fathers may well be false. Despite the numerous social problems plaguing black families, such as high levels of unemployment, discriminatory housing practices and sub-par inner-city school systems this still doesn’t answer the silence about where are all the missing fathers for our families.

I propose they are missing because our enemies (with ever changing sensationalized news leaks) often distract us from the real damage taking place on our watch, the reinvention of institutionalized racism perpetrated primarily through our American prison system.

The sense that fatherlessness is directly related to the disappearance of black men within the black community from being incarcerated or being labeled felons for life is rooted in reality.

Michelle Alexander states in her new book The New Jim Crow that “More African Americans are under correctional control today – in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. The mass incarceration of people of color is a big part of the reason that a black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery.”

The absence of black fathers is not simply a function of laziness, immaturity or immorality. Millions of black men have disappeared into prisons and jails, locked away for drug crimes that are largely ignored when committed by whites.

Deceptively, the clock has been turned back on the racial reconciliation effort in America today. Although no one seems to care, more black men are imprisoned today than at any other moment in our nation’s history.

Meanwhile a drug war has been declared on us while we immaturely condemn each other over the thorns of our flesh. Thus for the past 30 years we have been systematically enslaved through mass incarceration for engaging in precisely the same crimes that go largely ignored in middle-class and upper-class white communities—-possession and sale of illegal drugs.

For those living in the hood, employment is often nonexistent. The educational system in any predominantly black community often resembles more of a cradle to prison pipeline than places of scholarship, creativity or moral development. And because the drug war has been raging for decades now seemingly only on poor people of color, the parents of children coming of age today were targets of the drug war as well. As a result, many fathers are in prison, and those who are “free” bear the label of being a felon for life. They are often unable to provide for, or meaningfully contribute to, a family.

Therefore today an astounding percentage of the African American community is warehoused in prisons or trapped in a permanent, second-class status—much like their grandparents before them, who lived under an explicit system of control called Jim Crow.

Tragically while the Christian world is preoccupied with the alleged sins of one mega pastor, poor people of color are entering into a new neo state of slavery in a supposedly color blind America.

Because the American church hasn’t stood for the poor; its pursuits of wealth, luxury and ease have made it confident, satisfied and complacent. The indifference and idleness that has produced this state of fatherlessness and exploitation should be our chief concern. Unfortunately we have been too busy enjoying this week’s modern day public lynching and its accompanying worldly pleasures to have noticed our Laodicean crisis that threatens to destroy all of us.

The larger question now becomes how we rescue the church now stuck in destructive and addictive patterns. Jesus first calls us to repent, to see reality as it is and change it. The fact that concerned and capable First World Christians — who are politically free, socially mobile, and information—and resource-rich — typically feel unable or unwilling to struggle for social change is symptomatic of denial. This form of denial understood both in the ancient and modern sense of traditional theology calls Sin — blindness, deafness, and hardness of heart.

Thus if our First World Gospel can’t instruct and empower our Third World communities on how to address their horrific reality then maybe we all need to “shut up” and “set ourselves down…” Admit our guilt, confess our sins of indifference and once again begin to live out our credo; “The Spirit of the Lord is on me (us), because he has anointed me (us) to preach good new to the poor. He has sent me (us) to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mark Anthony Mitchell Sr.

Mark Anthony Mitchell Sr.

Senior Pastor/ Executive Director

Atlanta Urban Foursquare Church

Jesus 4 Justice Poor People's Campaign 501©3

1766 Lakewood Ave

Atlanta, Georgia 30315

Phone 770 256 3899

Fax 678 324 0478

Comment posted December 19, 2010 @ 2:54 am

Here is the problem I am on probation never went to jail just plead guilty…..never was arrested go to school fulltime for IT training cant even get a part time job while trying to train cant even get a job at a hamburger joint never been in trouble before ever…worked in semi professional positions in fortune 500 companies …will graduate in June 2011 with an it degree whats the use no one will hire me I have a FELONY.

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