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Report Calls Mass Incarceration a $3.4 Trillion Mistake

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On Rikers Island, 89 percent of the inmates are black or Latino. (Tim Rodenberg/flickr.com)
On Rikers Island, 89 percent of the inmates are black or Latino. (Tim Rodenberg/flickr.com)
October 18, 2016

NEW YORK – Thirty years of mass incarceration and criminalization wasted trillions of dollars that could have been used to improve lives, according to a new report.

The report, The $3.4 Trillion Dollar Mistake, said from 1982 to 2012, spending on criminal justice nationally increased by almost 230 percent.

According to Adilka Pimentel, a youth organizer with Make the Road New York, more than $230 billion was spent in New York alone on failed "get tough on crime" measures and the "war on drugs," money that could have been used to improve education, access to health care and creating jobs.

"We're looking at a lot of different ways that could have been a more successful path in the last 30 years and even for the years later to come, because everything affects people now, but it also affects our future," she said.

That money, she said, could have closed the $3.9 billion gap in public school funding, financed a Dream Act for immigrant students, expanded access to health care, and eliminated tuition at all city and state universities.

Another impact has been a huge increase in the number of people in the criminal justice system. And as Darian X, also with Make the Road, pointed out, New York City's jail on Rikers Island shows that people of color are much more likely to be incarcerated.

"Eighty-nine percent of the people who are in there are black and Latino, so I think that shows how investing in the criminal justice system is disproportionately impacting black and Latino communities," he said.

Nationwide, in 2013, one of every 55 white Americans was in the criminal-justice system, compared with one of 18 black residents and one of 34 Latinos.

Pimentel said the report's recommendations include redirecting money now flowing into the criminal-justice system toward initiatives that invest in people.

"Which could be more jobs, livable jobs with wages that take folks out of poverty," she added. "It could be putting money into mental institutions so that folks who have mental disabilities have that kind of support."

The report was done in collaboration with the Chicago-based organization Communities United, and Padres y Jovenes Unidios, based in Denver.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY