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Invisible Punishment Policies Irrational, Counterproductive

May 01, 2003
The dramatic expansion of the prison system, fueled by incarceration for drug offenses, has combined with new legislative initiatives to subject growing numbers of people to significant hurdles in access to housing, education, and financial benefits as they reenter the community.

Dramatic increases in the nation’s prison population fueled by the “war on drugs” and the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans are now all too familiar social trends.

Black prison admissions for drug offenses increased almost 25-fold between 1983 and 1998, compared to a seven-fold increase for White admissions. In absolute numbers, the current inmate population of two million is a record high.

Because of the complex interaction of socioeconomic disadvantage, racial profiling and discriminatory sentencing policies, Black men between the ages of 18 and 65 are more than seven times as likely as White men to be in prison or jail, and 41 percent of young Black male high school dropouts are behind bars.

Much less understood, however, are the collateral consequences of sentencing policies. These consequences – termed “invisible punishments” by Jeremy Travis, former director of the National Institute of Justice – are legal barriers, many erected by Congress within the past decade, which are increasingly harming the economic, political and social well-being of African American communities in particular. These policies significantly affect the life prospects of the 600,000 prisoners of all races released back to the community each year, as well as the social and economic well-being of the low-income communities to which most of them return.

This article was published by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. To read the article, download the PDF below.

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