Press Release

Final ‘One in Five’ Report Examines How Mass Incarceration Deepens Inequality and Harms Public Safety

Four-part “One in Five” series has examined progress in reducing racial inequities in America’s criminal legal system.

Related to: Sentencing Reform, Racial Justice

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, The Sentencing Project released a new report: “One in Five: How Mass Incarceration Deepens Inequality and Harms Public Safety.” This report – the final installment in the “One in Five” series – presents a key driver of disparity in imprisonment: laws and policies that exacerbate inequality and disproportionately overburden communities of color. The previous report in this series, published last month, explored three additional drivers of racial disparity.

The complete “One in Five” series from The Sentencing Project offers a comprehensive look at racial inequities within America’s criminal legal system – from progress made in the 21st century in reducing the U.S. prison population, to disparities in crime and policing and the key causes of racial and ethnic disparities in imprisonment. The series also highlights reforms that have helped to mitigate these sources of disparity.

“A primary driver of disparity within the U.S. criminal legal system is the multitude of laws and policies that not only intensify economic and social inequalities, but also divert public spending from effective public safety investments,” said Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Co-Director of Research with The Sentencing Project and lead author of the report. “Fortunately, states and local jurisdictions across the country have initiated promising reforms that both reduce the harms of criminal convictions and redirect resources to more effective interventions. It’s imperative that policymakers and practitioners protect and expand these reforms to help reduce the burden on those who, in many cases, are already at a socioeconomic disadvantage.”

Examined within this report are numerous criminal legal laws and policies – such as fines, fees, predatory pricing, exploitative wages, collateral consequences, and the diversion of effective investments in public safety – that exacerbate socioeconomic inequalities.

“Certain regulations intensify the marginalization of justice-involved people – who are disproportionately people of color – by wearing down economic and social buffers against crime and increasing the likelihood of police contact,” added Ghandnoosh.

The report goes on to explore how eliminating racial disparities in incarceration will require two strategies:

  • addressing sources of inequality by limiting the socioeconomic disadvantage and marginalization resulting from a criminal conviction, and
  • dramatically increasing investments in effective public safety programs.

The first report in the “One in Five” series presented an overview of incarceration and supervision trends. The second report interrogated the large footprint of policing – particularly of Black Americans – as a failed response to racial disparities in serious crimes. The third report in the series examined three causes of racial inequity in the criminal legal system and presented a series of promising reforms from over 50 jurisdictions across the country that can mitigate their impact.

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