Higher incarceration rates do not cause significant drops in crime, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Instead, mass incarceration creates a devastating feedback loop in poor, segregated communities.
Poor zip codes are policed more heavily, resulting in more arrests and incarceration. This erodes community trust and weakens local economies. When people return from prison, they are locked out of social and economic opportunity by “The Box.” Many job and education applications require people to check a box if they have a criminal record. Due to “The Box,” people with records struggle to secure employment, housing vouchers and food assistance, spurring a cycle of chronic poverty and repeat crime.
It is important that we understand this cycle as a societal choice. Instead of improving social service infrastructure and delivery in poor communities — which prevents crime and improves quality of life — we respond with punishment.
Pictured: People pray at a mass inside a Philadelphia prison.
Over-policing and mass incarceration put a crude bandage on crime. The criminal justice system fails to address the stark inequities in low-income communities. Crime is only a symptom of these deeper systemic issues.
Pictured: An incarcerated man works in a prison's furniture shop.
Jenkins and Mitchell agree: We need to transform these systems.
“As we think about the transformation of police education, as we're talking about a transformation of what police are responsible for, a reorientation of our view of what we as a society expect,” says Jenkins. “I think what it all comes down to in the end is government services being used to attack these problems more holistically.”
Pictured: Former President Barack Obama meets with New Jersey police and community leaders.
When communities receive more resources — funding, substance abuse programs, workforce development and more non-profit support — crime rates fall. Trust in institutions, including police departments, rises.
Pictured: Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative, which supports incarcerated youth, celebrates program graduation (Courtesy of JRJI).