1.5 million children in this country now have a parent in prison. Eighty-five percent of those in prison grew up in fatherless homes, including 60% of rapists and 72% of murderers. “They will undoubtedly father children of teenage mothers, for whom they will provide neither financial security nor emotional support, further perpetuating the vicious cycle of the aberrant family system,” wrote juvenile psychologist Mark Holmberg in a 1988 study for the Richmond, VA. judicial system.
Federal Bureau of Justice statistics report that 5.6 million adults in the United States either are now or at one time have been behind bars, and that 11.3 percent of all males born in 2001 will go to prison at some point in their lives. Among black men, that figure already stands at a mind boggling 22 percent, and no change in these trends is in sight.
What is really tragic is that incarcerating so many people - and thus creating the “perfect” conditions for producing the next generation of prisoners - makes absolutely no sense. Between 1970 and 1995, rates for both violent and property crimes in the United States actually remained at almost exactly the same level, but the prison population quadrupled. The risk of becoming a victim of crime in America is comparable to that in eleven other industrialized countries, roughly 24 percent, but this country locks up seven to eight times as many of its citizens as they do. This costs the United States $40 billion per year, with Departments of Correction being the largest, most expensive government agencies in many states
The Canadian government recently issued a report that finds that “the American incarceration rate is the highest in the world, but it has not made the United States a safer place to live.” According to a 1990 British government white paper, prison is simply “an expensive way to make bad people worse.” - and unfortunately to make those bad people’s sons and daughters worse too.