Mass Incarceration: A “Holocaust in Slow Motion?”

In a recent article in the DePaul Journal for Social Justice, “A ‘Holocaust in Slow Motion?’ America’s Mass Incarceration and the Role of Discretion,” a former federal prosecutor and a sitting federal judge highlight the “stunning metrics of mass incarceration in America” and discuss the role of discretion of lawmakers, prosecutors and judges and make suggestions for how our system can be more fair and just.

The “land of the free” incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any country in the world.


Marine Perez, CC BY 2.0

The United States has less than 5% of the world’s population but nearly 25% of the world’s incarcerated population.  The U.S. has 2.2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons or jails.  The U.S. is the world leader in incarceration with a 500% increase over the past 40 years.  The number of people in federal prisons for drug offenses increased 1950% between 1980 and 2010.  Of all the inmates in federal prisons, nearly half are serving time for drug offenses.  One in forty-five children have a parent in prison and one in ten have a parent under correctional supervision, straining them financially, disrupting parental bonds, separating spouses, stressing the remaining caregivers, leading to a loss of discipline in households, and to shame, stigma and anger.

But we get a safer society with the bad guys locked up, right?

On average, a person can make roughly $11,000 more [illegally] from spending time in prison versus a person who does not spend time in prison.

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