12 mind-blowing facts about the criminal justice system – and the best ways to fix it

Jhere’s what one statistic can show about the criminal justice system and how to improve it. Many are well aware, and have been for years, of its racial bias, its high financial costs to government, its profound impact on the lives of a huge proportion of Americans and their families.

We know what these systems do, Kendrick Davis of the Race and Equity Center at the University of Southern California told the audience on day two of the American Workforce and Justice Summit (AWJS) in Atlanta. , and we know the roots of these systems in some of America’s ugliest prejudices. Now it’s about building coalitions to change them.

“Is there the collective political will to do so?” he said.

There was no shortage of will inside the AWJS room on Thursday, and there was plenty of new research and analysis to help build that momentum in the wider culture. This is not the end point of the discussion, but a starting point for movement building work, argued activists, advocates and business leaders attending the event.

Here are 12 of the most surprising facts and figures about America’s sprawling mass incarceration system revealed at the conference, and how innovative activists are creating something better.

An 800% increase in the number of women incarcerated since the war on drugs

Women are the fastest growing portion of prison population. According to Topeka Sam of The Ladies of Hope Ministries, a New York-based nonprofit that provides housing and advocates for policies that support formerly incarcerated women.

Every 5 minutes, another person taken into custody

Once people get out of jail, it’s often only the beginning of the punishment who awaits them.

One such challenge is the parole and criminal supervision system, which affects about 4.5 million people in the United States, according to Louis Reed of the Reform Alliance.

Even minor offenses like arriving late for groceries can send people back to jail, and every five minutes another person is sent back to custody, Mr. Reed told a panel organized by The Independent.

$16 trillion lost to racism

It’s the price of GDP lost over the past 20 years to racism, USC’s Davis said, ‘because we haven’t closed the gaps between black and white pay , access to capital for entrepreneurship and other ventures and all things we know this from the economic foundation of our individual lives and our communities.

97% are likely to be convicted without a full trial

That, on the other hand, is the percentage of convictions in the federal prison system that result from plea agreements entered into before a full trial determining true guilt or innocence can take place, according to Maha Jweied of the National. Legal Aid & Defender Association. . This puts people who cannot afford a lawyer at a huge disadvantage, preparing them for potentially life-changing contact with the justice system.

“If you don’t have a lawyer to advise you, you are really on the verge of losing your rights, whether you are guilty or not,” she said.

10 times more likely to be homeless and earn only $10,000 a year

People who have had previous contact with the justice system are 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public and have a median salary of just over $10,000 in their first year after prison, Terrica Ganzy added. from the Southern Center for Human Rights.

Thousands of official and unofficial policies around the incarcerated ancient country bar housing, employment and professional licenses.

Combined, these barriers make “life feel like a trap” for people once they walk through the prison gates, Ms Ganzy told the audience.

More than 800 children, locked up for life

An estimated 804 juveniles in the United States are serving life sentences without parole, said Undrea Jones of the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth, who served 21 years in prison starting at age 16.

It’s a system, she says, that convinces people and is based on the principle that some children are worthless.

“A child believes everything an adult tells him,” she said. And for children in the justice system, the government “has become our parent.”

“We believe the criminal justice system laughed at us when they sentenced us to die in prison but we continued to live,” she continued.

36 million records erased

One of the key policies supported by many at AWJS is the “clean slate,” using the power of government to automatically erase past arrests and convictions from people’s records and give them a better chance of reinstatement.

Pennsylvania, one of the first states to adopt a clean slate, has since erased 36 million records.

“The government can push a button and eligible people will automatically have their records erased,” said Sheena Meade of the Clean Slate initiative on the AWJS stage.

“There is someone around you who is affected,” she continued, noting that about 1 in 3 Americans have a criminal record. “You may not know that yet.”

Almost half of the staff, formerly incarcerated

Dave’s Killer Bread, a bakery founded by formerly incarcerated Dave Dahl, has become one of the top brands in the United States, and it’s managed to do so while focusing on second-chance hiring, according to Genevieve Martin from the company’s DKB Foundation.

From now on, its staff is regularly made up of 30 to 40% of people impacted by justice.

“We’re the leading company because we hire the best people for the job,” she said.

4,300 new hires

Dave’s Killer Bread is not alone. Perhaps the company completely opposed to the organic baker is financial giant JP Morgan Chase, which has engaged in similar second-chance efforts.

About 10% of its new hires in the United States, or about 4,300 people, have had previous contact with the system, said Nan Gibson, executive director of the company’s policy center. The company did this by “banning the box” by asking for criminal record information in its job applications, as well as supporting local groups that offered job training and legal assistance to potential candidates from backgrounds. affected by justice.

$30 million raised

When the pandemic hit, returning citizens were hit hard by job losses. That’s why the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) helped raise $30 million to distribute cash grants to formerly incarcerated individuals of up to $2,700.

“What we were seeing was big job losses since 2020, but so many people weren’t eligible for it,” said Christopher Watler, CEO.

$5,000 down payment on the purchase of a house by an employee

As many AWJS panelists attested, housing remains one of the greatest barriers for formerly incarcerated people.

Cincinatti’s Nehemiah Manufacturing has its own housing complex that it rents out to employees at low prices and supports team members with up to $5,000 in matching funds to put down a deposit on a home.

A revised 30-year policy

When Keilon Ratliff of staffing firm Kelly Services began working with the Toyota factory to hire ex-convicts, they came up against 30-year-old HR policies prohibiting such practices.

“We were talking to executives. Nobody could tell you the genesis of the policy,” he said. “They started asking around the room, are you interested? »

Fast forward to a pilot project at a plant in Kentucky, and suddenly the automaker saw an increase in retention, diversity, and hiring options. Now, the policy changes implemented in Kentucky apply across the company.

the US Labor and Justice Summit 2022 is a two-day gathering of over 150 business leaders, policy experts and campaign organizations focused on how businesses can meaningfully engage on justice issues and create change in the workplace and beyond. AWJ 2022, a project of Responsible Business for Justice Initiativetakes place in Atlanta, Georgia on May 4-5. The Independent will report from AWJ 2022 as a media partner.