Today, the U.S. prison population is the world's largest. Although the Bureau of Justice Statistics, BJS, reports a decline in the prison population of approximately 0.7%, that number reflects 51,000 offenders supervised in the community under the authority of probation or parole agencies out of 6,937,600 offenders incarcerated in adult correctional systems at the end of 2012. There were more than 15,000 inmates under age 18 held in adult prisons. In 2012, about 1 in every 35 adults in the United States, or 2.9% of adult residents, was on probation, parole or incarcerated in prison or jail. The states reporting the highest rates of incarceration for African Americas are South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Utah, Colorado, and Montana. The state reporting the lowest rate of incarceration is Hawaii, yet African Americans still constitute more than double the amount of incarcerated whites and 7 times more than Hispanics.
Probation is imposed in lieu of prison, after a prison sentence has been reduced for “good behavior” or immediately following early release. Ex-offenders must report to a probation officer and must pay monthly probation fines. It is a vicious cycle in that many prisoners cannot find work and are violated for not being able to pay their probation fines. There is an initiative gaining momentum in many states; employers are postponing such queries until a later stage of the hiring process–an initiative widely known as “Ban the Box”. There is little evidence to show the effectiveness of this initiative. The truth of the matter is, there is discrimination in the hiring process and anyone with a criminal record will always take a back seat to someone who has a clean record.
Although sharing the same educational background, a disproportionate number of African Americans earn less than their counterparts. Although black males are not the ones importing illegal drugs and weapons, a disproportionate number are sentenced for drug and weapons violations. Although young white male sociopaths have terrorized High School and College campuses, young black males are disproportionately stopped, searched and arrested. In 2009, a report released from the U.S. Department of Justice noted that during the same year 9% of the Black men who were stopped and not arrested had been searched compared to 3% of White men.
Land of the Free? We need to dedicate our time figuring out how to stop this vicious cycle instead of building more jails and hiring more police and probation officers that only perpetuate the cycle. We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.