In the latest installment of his excellent New York Times series, Time and Punishment, John Tierney writes that mass incarceration trends of the past 30 years may have done more to harm crime-ridden communities and their residents than help them. As the number of prisoners has risen and the length of sentences has grown, Tierney writes:
The shift to tougher penal policies three decades ago was originally credited with helping people in poor neighborhoods by reducing crime. But now that America’s incarceration rate has risen to be the world’s highest, many social scientists find the social benefits to be far outweighed by the costs to those communities.
“Prison has become the new poverty trap,” said Bruce Western, a Harvard sociologist. “It has become a routine event for poor African-American men and their families, creating an enduring disadvantage at the very bottom of American society.”
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