By Nicole D. Porter, The Sentencing Project
For more than forty years, the correctional system has been dominated by growth. In 1969, the crime rate was 3,680 per 100,000 population and the incarceration rate was 97 state and federal prisoners per 100,000 population. Today the crime rate is slightly lower at 3,667 per 100,000 population but the incarceration rate is five times higher, at 492 per 100,000. The culture of punishment, in part driven by political expediency with “tough-on-crime” policies marketed as the solution to “fear of crime,” has been aggressively implemented at every stage of the criminal justice process: arresting, charging, sentencing, confining, releasing and supervising.
Today, there is general agreement that this vast expansion of the criminal justice system and the seven million people currently under U.S. correctional control did not occur by accident, but as the result of deliberate policy choices that impose intentionally punitive sentences that have increased both the numbers of people entering the system and how long they remain there.
The destructive effects of mass incarceration are visited disproportionately upon individuals and communities of color. Justice Reinvestment was conceived as part of the solution to this problem. Justice Reinvestment originated as an ambitious strategy to reduce reliance on incarceration and repair the harm to individuals and communities through reinvestment in neighborhoods with high concentrations of residents in the criminal justice system.
The initial purpose of Justice Reinvestment was to make state government accountable to impoverished communities – mostly (though not exclusively) black and Latino – where the burden of punishment and incarceration has been the heaviest. These already disadvantaged neighborhoods were being driven deeper into perpetual economic divestment, social isolation, political disenfranchisement and physical distress by the coercive, downward mobility caused by locally concentrated pockets of incarceration and the forced migration of residents to and from prison. The intent was to reduce corrections populations and budgets, thereby generating savings for the purpose of reinvesting in high incarceration communities to make them safer, stronger, more prosperous and equitable.