Co-authored by Jesse Lava
When will the United States start thinking beyond bars?
This nation is now spending over $200 billion a year on a justice system that locks up more people than any country on earth. We have more prisoners than China. More than Russia. More than anyone. This colossal system is hitting our communities with staggering financial and human costs — gobbling resources that should be going to strengthening communities.
That’s why we’re teaming up with a slew of great organizations and launching a major new campaign at Brave New Foundation. The campaign is called Beyond Bars. It aims to change Americans’ thinking and inspire action through short videos and shareable graphics exposing the U.S. system of mass incarceration.
Our new video shows the prison system as the giant beast that it is. Watch it here:
This video was done in partnership with a host of groups, showing the widespread hunger to create a sense of public urgency around mass incarceration:
• United Methodist Church
• Justice Fellowship
• Drug Policy Alliance
• Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
• Families Against Mandatory Minimums
• Equal Justice Initiative
• Justice Policy Institute
• National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
• All of Us or None
• A New Way of Life
• Partnership for Safety & Justice
What these groups know is that rising incarceration has had devastating consequences. Not only has it left millions of children without fathers and burdened mostly nonviolent Americans with lifelong obstacles to employment and social integration — it has also busted state budgets with increasing costs while doing little to improve public safety. And that’s not even to mention the racial bias inherent in a system that ensnares people of color at a rate that’s vastly disproportionate to the number of crimes committed, with African American males bearing the brunt of the crackdown.
In short, the United States is paying top dollar for an incarceration system that’s unfair and doesn’t work.
Fortunately, there are alternative approaches to public safety. Policies involving crime prevention, rehabilitation, and job opportunity would let the United States save untoldbillions of dollars every year while making communities safer.
Take, for instance, the Fortune Society in New York, which gives people services like drug treatment, housing, and job training as an alternative to incarceration. Or Project HOPE in Hawaii, which gives people days in jail when they might otherwise be sentenced to years — and gets far better results. Or look across the Atlantic Ocean to the Portugal, which has had tremendous success decriminalizing drugs altogether.
No matter what paths are taken, something has to give in a nation that has 5% of the world’s population but about 25% of the world’s prisoners. The stale rhetoric of “tough on crime” rings hollow when study after study confirms that incarceration shouldn’t be the first resort to every problem. And now that budget crunches at the state and federal level are forcing difficult cuts, there’s a real opportunity for reforms that reduce the cost of the justice system.
The Beyond Bars campaign will be looking to seize this opportunity. Check out our content in the coming months and years as we make the case that another way is possible.