Have you ever heard of the Prison Policy Initiative? Well, they’ve got some pretty eye-opening statistics about the state of our criminal justice system. Did you know that Alaska has the highest incarceration rate of any democracy in the world? It’s true! With an incarceration rate of 718 per 100,000, there are over 5,100 individuals behind bars. That breaks down to 4,300 in state prisons, 100 in local jails, 210 youth, 10 in involuntary commitment, and 510 in federal prison.
To make matters worse, certain racial groups are disproportionately represented in these numbers. For instance, Black and Indigenous populations are disproportionately represented in these numbers. While Indigenous populations account for 15% of the general population, they account for 38% of the incarcerated population. Black populations, which consist of 3% of the population, are similarly as dire and account for 7% of the incarnated population.
But it’s not just about being locked up; it’s also about the conditions inside. For example, prisoners are often paid meager wages for their work, with some earning as little as 30 cents an hour, which is well below the minimum wage. This not only perpetuates a cycle of poverty, but also raises ethical concerns about the exploitation of incarcerated individuals for cheap labor.
But its more than simple exploitation. The emotional toll of being undervalued and exploited can take a significant toll on incarcerated individuals’ mental health. Engaging in meaningful work is crucial to maintaining positive mental health and well-being, but the exploitative nature of prison labor can strip incarcerated individuals of this sense of purpose, leading to feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and despair.
In addition to the low wages, exorbitant prices for basic necessities can add up to an astronomical sum, making it difficult for prisoners to maintain contact with their loved ones. For instance, a 15-minute phone call can cost a staggering $3.15, which is prohibitively expensive for many inmates and their families. This financial burden can have a severe impact on prisoners’ mental health and social connections, potentially making it more difficult for them to reintegrate into society after their release by severing their external support network.
And it’s not just those who are incarcerated who are affected. There are also 6,500 people on probation and 1,700 on parole. Unfortunately, approximately 66% of these individuals experience recidivism within three years, among the highest in the nation. The high recidivism rate strains our criminal justice system and adversely impacts families and communities. On top of that, it places a significant financial burden on state and local budgets, for which we, as taxpayers, must foot the bill. In fact, the average cost of a recidivism event is a staggering $133,000 or, when accounting for the annual recidivism rate, approximately $720,000,000 which is a cost none of us can afford to bear.
This is just a small taste of what’s happening in our criminal justice system. It’s up to us to educate ourselves and fight for reforms that prioritize rehabilitation and support for those affected by the system.