County jails across the country have effectively become debtor’s prisons as Americans in lock-up for minor offenses have their stays prolonged due to debts they incur. The NYT examines a disturbing new report on how jails function:
The study, “Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America,” found that the majority of those incarcerated in local and county jails are there for minor violations, including driving with suspended licenses, shoplifting or evading subway fares, and have been jailed for longer periods of time over the past 30 years because they are unable to pay court-imposed costs […]
The number of people housed in jails on any given day in the country has increased from 224,000 in 1983 to 731,000 in 2013 — nearly equal to the population of Charlotte, N.C. — even as violent crime nationally has fallen by nearly 50 percent and property crime has dropped by more than 40 percent from its peak.
There is, however, some good news. Americans are increasingly aware of the constellation of issues surrounding much-needed reforms of police practices, the criminal justice system, and prisons. In this case, the NYT cites a initiative by the MacArthur Foundation to finance efforts in 20 U.S. jurisdictions “that are seeking alternatives to sending large numbers of people to jail.” Leaders on both sides of the aisle have begun not only to condemn the status quo in U.S. prisons, but also to take concrete steps towards changing it. We hope that soon the same can be said of local jails and the debt traps that keep Americans impoverished and imprisoned.