As national research demonstrates, Americans are shifting away from taking a punitive approach to crime. Many self-identified Republicans now favor an approach which addresses its roots rather than using punishment as the solution.
SSA faculty employ ethnographic research to illustrate how criminal justice policies and practices impact urban life. Their results reveal that being charged with a crime goes well beyond its legal consequences.
Impact on Public Safety
The criminal justice system serves society by policing communities, prosecuting offenders and punishing those found guilty. Its purposes range from combating property crime to preventing sexual assault and murder; but its costs cannot be ignored; most notably imprisonment costs; indirect costs include lost wages/employment opportunities/health-care implications/recidivism rates/damage to family life as a result; stigmas/barriers can make finding jobs or housing harder than before due to criminal records imposed by this system.
The United States spends an estimated annual cost of $300 billion to police communities and imprison approximately 2.2 million individuals, yet these expenses only marginally reduce deterrence, with high reoffending rates as a result of these policies. Criminologists question if imprisonment’s benefits justify its substantial costs.
One of the major difficulties is that public perception is often an inaccurate reflection of mass incarceration’s social costs, partially because incarcerated populations do not appear on official measures of poverty and unemployment and do not figure in surveys of educational achievement and family well-being.
Americans generally believe that criminal justice systems should prioritize prevention over punishment; many polled favor social services and rehabilitation over punishment that dehumanizes individuals and does not fit their crimes. Many Stand Together Trust grantees are working hard to close this understanding gap of criminal justice systems.
Some believe that prisoners should be subjected to overcrowding and poor living conditions because of their crimes, contributing to recidivism by encouraging former inmates to return to crime after leaving prison or jail. Many Americans also do not appreciate the stigmatization and difficulty associated with having a criminal record which inhibits employment prospects; according to experiments conducted by researchers such as Devah Pager’s work this conviction history decreases chances of receiving callbacks from potential employers.
Impact on Individuals
Criminal justice systems do not only punish criminals; they inflict harms that go well beyond punishment. Many of these effects extend far beyond just punishing criminals, and can have lasting repercussions for families, friends and communities involved. Prisoners experience both physical and emotional strain while in custody; upon release into society upon their reentry from incarceration can encounter difficulties finding employment, homelessness and poor health that create obstacles such as family dysfunction and further criminal activities.
Studies show that incarceration’s effects can last generations after someone completes their sentence. The negative repercussions can often be seen among children and grandchildren of prisoners, who may become more likely to develop substance use issues or engage in criminal activity themselves. Furthermore, imprisonment negatively impacts individual and family economic wellbeing by decreasing employment opportunities, restricting housing availability and accessing to public assistance programs or educational resources.
United States residents spend approximately $300 billion each year to police our communities and imprison 2.2 million individuals, which may or may not deter crime, according to estimates by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. While valuing any small increase in deterrence is hard to measure, its cost far outweighs any benefits from crime reduction. This enormous societal investment in policing and imprisonment is mostly paid for by individuals who lose wages, are denied jobs, or otherwise bear social and economic repercussions as a result of their incarceration.
Researchers who investigate the intersections of law and society are concerned that criminal justice policies have an enormous effect on the quality of life for marginalized groups in American cities and towns, particularly for marginalized minority communities. Their goal is to understand this relationship so as to develop effective tools of change such as increasing alternative forms of incarceration.
One of the major impacts of the criminal justice system on individuals is through its racial and ethnic disparities. Incarceration rates for low-level drug offenses among African Americans far outstrips their actual usage; one scholar has even described this trend as part of what they refer to as the new Jim Crow.
Researchers must take an integrative approach when investigating disparities, poverty, inequality and poor health; including looking at federal and state policies, correctional environments, neighborhoods/communities as well as families/individuals.
Impact on Families
Millions of people each year encounter run-ins with the law, whether minor or serious in nature, and its aftermath has far-reaching repercussions for themselves, their immediate families, extended family and neighborhoods – particularly poor and minority individuals whose involvement contributes to fracturing communities as a contributing factor to an ever widening gap in economic opportunity and wealth inequality.
Unfortunately, current policies appear ineffective at addressing the collateral damage of incarceration. Research on this subject often has limited scope and cannot depict its full complexity on individuals and families already deeply impacted. Furthermore, it remains difficult to ascertain whether criminal justice policy changes can make meaningful differences for these vulnerable families. But Attorney’s like Mitchell Cozad believes that a new approach to criminal justice is needed.
People with criminal records know the consequences of having one are well-established; job opportunities become restricted due to stigma of conviction and these barriers prevent them from moving up the income ladder; this often leads to engaging in risk-taking behavior that leads them back behind bars; this pattern becomes even more apparent in low-income communities due to gaps in educational opportunities and employment that pays wages sufficient to support a family unit.
Once released from arrest or imprisonment, those involved face numerous obstacles on their path back into productive lives. Legal barriers prevent them from finding work, housing and child care – leading to frequent interactions with criminal justice systems and increased rates of recidivism.
It’s time for a major transformation of how we punish offenders. We must address the causes rather than treat only symptoms, and seek alternatives to incarceration that are less expensive, more effective in reducing recidivism rates, and more kinder to those involved with criminal justice systems. Until then, poor communities will continue to experience adverse results of an outdated criminal justice system.
Impact on Communities
Criminal justice interactions often impose substantial costs upon those involved – not only those facing charges and facing imprisonment but also their families and communities as a whole. Not only are budgetary outlays required by direct penalties like fines or loss of liberty incurred, but there can be wider societal effects like reduced economic mobility that impact us all. SSA faculty are exploring how criminal justice policies and practices shape urban life with detrimental results.
The US’ incarceration rate is one of the principal drivers of social inequality in America. Its effects are especially acute for marginalized communities, such as young men with limited education levels. Prison populations have thus grown disproportionately among these individuals who would normally be beginning careers and raising families during this period of their lives. Furthermore, due to disparate police attitudes and outdated judicial precedents it is more likely that they will be arrested for crimes that carry serious penalties, leading them to multiple prison stints and potentially long prison terms.
Once released from prison, many individuals will face difficulty finding work and housing; many will also likely be saddled with debt that hinders their participation in the economy and leading a healthy life. They will encounter barriers when accessing public services; some may even be denied voting rights due to unpaid fines or fees – further compounding financial and emotional strain on family relationships.
As it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly how these issues relate to criminal justice systems, or even just correlate to them, it is clear that our current criminal justice system has become an economic drain and therefore reform should take place to make crime control as efficient and cost-effective as possible, while providing essential safety services for all.
By adopting a more holistic view of the issue, we can develop an equitable and efficient system that benefits the whole community. Doing this allows us to provide more support to those incarcerated while giving them an opportunity to rebuild their lives and contribute meaningfully back into society.