Tuesday, November 03, 2020

The Hidden Cost Of American Criminal Injustice

Time  |  We all know getting entangled in the criminal justice system leads to serious consequences. But few among us really understand that the slightest brush with the law bears an even stricter potential sentence – a lifetime trapped in an inescapable cycle of poverty.

A new report from the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law shows that $372 billion in earnings are lost in the United States each year for those who have a criminal conviction or have spent time in prison. That is enough money to close New York City’s poverty gap 60 times over.

While it is no secret that our criminal justice system has economic implications for those who serve time, we now understand just how devastating those impacts are. Time in prison slashes annual earning potential in half, which results in a loss of nearly half a million dollars over the course of a career. But if you are a person of color, these gaps widen even more dramatically. Blacks and Latinos who have a prison record experience a nearly flat trajectory in earnings after imprisonment, while their white counterparts’ earnings climb steadily across a lifetime.

These findings have enormous implications for the U.S. economy. More than 7 million people living in the U.S. have served time in prison and more than 45 million, and well over a tenth of all Americans, have been convicted of a misdemeanor, such as shoplifting.

These lost earnings impact the entire country, and they disproportionally drain resources and wealth from communities of color. Blacks are jailed at more than triple the rate of whites, and nearly half of all people serving effective life sentences are Black. This overrepresentation exacerbates an already disturbingly wide racial wealth gap that sees the median white family holding 10 times the wealth of the median Black family.