Half of US adults have immediate family member who has been in prison, report finds
- American prisons are four times larger than 1980 and the US continues to incarcerate more people than any other country in the world, the report said
Nearly half of all American adults have an immediate family member who has experienced incarceration, according to a study published on Thursday that spotlights the extent of mass imprisonment in the United States.
The report came after President Donald Trump gave his backing to a bipartisan bill aimed at reforming sentences imposed for drug offences, a move that could reduce the prison population after years of spiralling growth.
The study by Cornell University and lobbying group FWD.us found that around 45 per cent of American adults – about 113 million people – have an immediate family member who has been incarcerated for at least one night in jail or prison.
It was based on online and phone surveys conducted on a nationally representative sample of 4,041 adults in the summer of 2018.
One in seven US adults has an immediate family member who has been in prison for at least one year, and one in 34 adults has had an immediate family member imprisoned for 10 years or longer.
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An estimated 6.5 million people, or one in 38, have an immediate family member who is currently in jail or prison.
Incarceration results in a variety of direct and indirect harm, according to the study.
“Research has shown that even short periods of incarceration can be devastating to people’s lives and additional punishments such as fines and fees,” it said. “Restrictions on employment and housing, and the loss of basic human rights limit opportunities for success long after individuals have completed their sentences.”
The study found that black people are 50 per cent more likely than white people to have had a family member incarcerated, and three times more likely to have had a family member incarcerated for one year or longer.
People earning under $25,000 per year are 61 per cent more likely than people earning over $100,000 to have had a family member incarcerated – and three times more likely to have had a family member in prison for a year or longer.
The report said its findings are “a stark reminder of how much work is needed to alleviate the harms caused by mass incarceration and unravel the complicated tangle of laws that perpetuate it”.
The adoption of successive repressive laws since the 1980s has seen the prison population explode. There are now more than 1.5 million people in state and federal prisons on any given day, and nearly 11 million admissions to local jails each year.
US jail and prison populations are four times larger than in 1980 and the United States continues to incarcerate more people than any other countries in the world, the report said.
With 710 prisoners per 100,000 people, the US incarceration rate is far ahead of Western democracies – 147 in Britain, 118 in Canada, 108 in Belgium and 98 in France.
Last month, Trump announced he would back a bipartisan prison reform brought by a group of Republican and Democratic senators to shorten prison sentences for certain nonviolent offenders.
In particular, it would abolish automatic penalties of 25 years in prison in the event of a third conviction for a drug case, even a minor one.
Hardline conservatives could still stall its adoption.