~Have “You” Ever Been Convicted Of A Felony?

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21st-Century Slaves @ National Geographic Magazine


The past 30 years have seen enormous changes in the philosophy and practice of sentencing and corrections. The strong emphasis on rehabilitation that existed for the first seven decades of the 20th century gave way in the 1970s to a focus on fairness and justice, by which sentences reflected “just deserts” rather than a utilitarian motive. Sentencing practices later moved toward a crime-control model that emphasized incarceration as a way to reduce crime in the community; this crime-control model
became increasingly popular during the 1980s and 1990s. Discussion of sentencing and corrections in the 21st century must begin with a review of these changes and their impact on the criminal justice system.

The historical changes in sentencing and corrections policies and practices can be characterized, in part, by the emphasis on different goals. Four major goals are usually attributed to the sentencing process: retribution, rehabilitation, deterrence, and incapacitation. Retribution refers to just deserts: people who break the law deserve to be punished. The other three goals are utilitarian, emphasizing methods to protect the public. They differ, however, in the mechanism expected to provide public safety.
Deterrence emphasizes the onerousness of punishment; offenders are deterred from committing crimes because of a rational calculation that the cost of punishment is too great. The punishment is so repugnant that neither the punished offender (specific deterrence) nor others (general deterrence) commit crimes in the future. Incapacitation deprives people of the capacity to commit crimes because they are physically detained in prison. Rehabilitation attempts to modify offenders’ behavior and thinking so they do not continue to commit crimes. Although sentences frequently address several of these goals in practice, the emphasis on which goal is the highest priority has changed dramatically in the past 30 years.



At the same time the goals of punishment have been changing, the number of people in the United States who are under correctional supervision has increased enormously. Changes in the practice and philosophy of sentencing and corrections have clearly had a major impact on incarceration rates. However, there is no consensus on what, specifically, has caused the changes, the impact of the changes, or their intended and unintended consequences. This paper explores these issues.Growth of Correctional Populations A dramatic increase in offender populations accompanied changes in sentencing and correctional
philosophy; this increase was unprecedented and followed a period of relative stability (exhibit 1). From 1930 to 1975 the average incarceration rate was 106 inmates per 100,000 adults in the population. The rate fluctuated only slightly, from a low of 93 to a maximum of 137 per 100,000. This was the age of indeterminate sentencing and rehabilitation.

After 1975 incarceration rates grew tremendously; by 1985 the incarceration rate for individuals in State or Federal prisons was 202 per 100,000 adults in the population. The rate continued to grow, reaching 411 in 1995 and 445 in 1997. If local jail populations are also considered, the incarceration rate in 1997 was 652. By the end of 1998, more than 1.3 million prisoners were under Federal or State jurisdiction, and more than 1.8 million were in jail or prison.

The increases in the correctional populations were not limited to jails and prisons. The number of
individuals on probation and parole also grew substantially (exhibit 2) From 1980 to 1997, the national correctional population rose from 1.8 million to 5.7 million, an increase of 217 percent. During the same period, the probation population grew by 191 percent; parole, 213 percent; and the number of prisoners, 271 percent. By 1998, more than 4.1 million adult men and women were on probation or parole, and there were 1,705 probationers and 352 parolees per 100,000 adults in the population.

In 1998 the adult correctional population in Federal, State, and local facilities reached an all-time high of approximately 5.9 million. One in 34 adults, or 2.9 percent of the adult population, were either incarcerated or on probation or parole at the end of the year. The majority of these adults (69.1 percent) were on probation or parole.

Minority males had both the greatest overall rate of incarceration and the greatest increases in rates over time. From 1980 to 1996, the incarceration rate for African-American prisoners in State or Federal prisons grew from 554 to 1,574 per 100,000 U.S. adults (a 184-percent increase). Also during this time, incarceration rates for Hispanics increased from 206 to 609 (a 196-percent increase); rates for whites rose from 73 to 193 (a 164-percent increase).11 When both prison and jail populations are calculated, the rates for African-Americans in 1996 were 6,607 and 474 (per 100,000 U.S. adult residents) for males and females,respectively; for whites the rates were 944 for males and 73 for females. Incarceration rates by gender and racial group, as well as the dramatic increase from 1985 to 1996 for African-American males, are shown in exhibit.

There are more slaves today than were seized from Africa in four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The modern commerce in humans rivals illegal drug trafficking in its global reach—and in the destruction of lives.


Virtually every felony conviction carries with it a life sentence. Upon being released from prison, ex-offenders face a vast and increasing maze of mandatory exclusions from valuable social programs and employment opportunities that impede their hopes of success in the free world. These exclusions range from restrictions on the ability to get a driver’s license lifetime ban on eligibility for federal welfare. In adopting this array of civil disabilities, federal, state and municipal governments have endorsed a social
policy that condemns ex-offenders to a diminished social and economic status, and for many, a life of crime. Recently the American Bar Association concluded that the dramatic increase in the numbers of persons convicted and
imprisoned means that this half-hidden network of legal barriers affects a growing proportion of the populace. More people convicted inevitably means more people who will ultimately be released from prison or supervision, and who must either successfully reenter society or be at risk of reoffending. If not administered in a sufficiently deliberate manner, a regime of collateral consequences may frustrate the reentry and rehabilitation of this population, and encourage recidivism.

Three phases are associated with offender reentry programs: programs that take place during incarceration, which aim to prepare offenders for their eventual release; programs that take place during offenders’ release period, which seek to connect ex-offenders with the various services they may require; and long-term programs that take place as ex-offenders permanently reintegrate
into their communities, which attempt to provide offenders with support and supervision. There is a wide array of offender reentry program designs, and these programs can differ significantly in range, scope, and methodology. Researchers in the offender reentry field have suggested that the best programs begin during incarceration and extend throughout the release and reintegration process. Despite the relative lack of research in the field of offender reentry, an emerging “what works” literature suggests that programs focusing on work training and placement, drug and mental health treatment, and housing assistance have proven to be effective. The federal government’s involvement in offender reentry programs typically occurs through
grant funding, which is available through a wide array of federal programs at the Departments of Justice, Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services. However, only a handful of grant programs in the federal government are designed explicitly for offender reentry purposes.

The Second Chance Act (P.L. 110-199) was enacted on April 9, 2008. The act expanded the existing offender reentry grant program at the Department of Justice and created a wide array of targeted grant-funded pilot programs.

Over 95% of the prison population today will be released at some point in the future. Since 1990, an average of 590,400 inmates have been released annually from state and federal prisons. The Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has estimated that two-thirds of all released prisoners will be rearrested within three years of their release and about half will be reconvicted. Many studies have indicated that reentry initiatives that combine work training and placement with counseling and housing assistance can reduce recidivism rates. It is for this reason May and I are in hot pursuit of a program that will hold the “Brand” stated above. All the ingredients mentioned in this post are what we had at out disposal without a program and are at this stage we are now in our lives.  According to the BJS, the average per prisoner cost of incarceration in state prison in 2010 was approximately $28,000 per year. States collectively spent nearly $48.5 billion on their correctional systems in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available. If you think this isn’t affecting you in some way look again.




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