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The Problem

At Defy, we give our everything—because
that is what’s required when you tackle America’s
highest failure rate industry.

  • 1 out of every 20 U.S. citizens will serve in prison in his or her lifetime.1
  • Approximately 10,000,000 people are released from county jails back into communities annually.2
  • More than 650,000 people are released from Federal and State prison every year. Over two-thirds will be rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within 3 years.2
  • Roughly 100,000 juveniles leave correctional facilities, State prison, or Federal prison each year. These juveniles have a recidivism rate of 55 to 75%.2
  • The National Institute of Justice has found that 1 year after release, up to 60% of formerly incarcerated people are not employed.2
  • Each of the 2.3 million incarcerated individuals in the U.S. costs American taxpayers more than $31,000 per year.3
  • 70% of children with an incarcerated parent will follow in their parents’ footsteps.4

Mass incarceration nation

  • The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners.5
  • 1 out of every 100 U.S. citizens is currently serving a prison sentence.6
  • In 1972, fewer than 350,000 people were being held in prisons and jails nationwide, compared to more than 2,000,000 today.7
  • African-Americans are nearly six times more likely to be incarcerated than whites; Latinos are nearly twice as likely to be incarcerated than whites.8

Devastating economic consequences

  • In New York City, the average annual cost per incarcerated individual is over $167,000.9
  • In 2010, New York spent $3.6 billion on corrections, double the national average.10
  • State and Federal spending on corrections has increased by 305% to $52 billion during the past 2 decades, and, on the state level, is now is the 2nd fastest growing budget area behind Medicaid.11

Immeasurable human costs

  • More than half of all U.S. incarcerated adults are parents to a child under the age of 18. 1.7 million children under the age of 18 have parents who are serving a prison sentence.12
  • Incarceration of a parent leads to family instability, emotional trauma among children, and increased likelihood that families will live in chronic poverty.
  • Between 15 percent and 27 percent of prisoners expect to go to homeless shelters upon release from prison.2

Racial injustice13

  • No other country in the world imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minorities. The US incarcerates a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.
  • In Washington, D.C., our nation’s capitol, it is estimated that three out of four young black men (and nearly all those in the poorest neighborhoods) can expect to serve time in prison.
  • These stark racial disparities cannot be explained by rates of drug crime. Studies show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. If anything, surveys suggest that whites, particularly white youth, are more likely to engage in drug crime than people of color. This is not what one would guess when entering our nation’s prisons and jails, which are overflowing with ethnic minorities.
  • In some states, black men have been admitted to prison on drug charges at rates 20 to 50 times greater than those of white men. And in major cities wracked by the drug war, as many as 80% of young African-American men now have criminal records and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives.

The traditional labor market is often closed to individuals with criminal histories. A lack of training in skills necessary to succeed in the new economy—and employer bias stemming from a perceived liability of hiring personnel with criminal records—makes gaining financial mobility for men and women with criminal histories almost impossible.

As Michelle Alexander writes in The New Jim Crow: “Today is it perfectly legal to discriminate against people with criminal histories in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal. As a convicted felon, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”4

Our “justice” system is supposedly set up so that people who commit crimes “serve their time.” But a felony is a life sentence in this country—regardless of the time served. Our “correctional departments” are focused on punishment, not rehabilitation. If you were locked up for 10 years, were completely dehumanized, had no support system or resources upon your release, what would you do?

Relegated to minimum wage jobs, many develop illegal businesses or engage in criminal transactions, which appear more lucrative in the short-term. In high-poverty communities, it is often easier to make a “quick buck” through illegal means than it is to overcome the perceived or real barriers to achieving meaningful, legal, and sustainable employment. The result is a revolving door to prison and a legacy of poverty, dependency, violence, and incarceration that is passed down through generations.

1 Bureau of Justice Statistics, Lifetime Likelihood of  Going to State or Federal Prison (U.S. Department of Justice, 1997).

2 H.R. 1593–110th Congress: Second Chance Act of 2007.” www.GovTrack.us. 2007. August 27, 2013.

3 Christian Henrichson and Ruth Delaney, The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers. New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2012.

4 Mosely, E. (2008). Incarcerated – Children of Parents in Prison Impacted. Texas Department of Criminal Justice: GO KIDS. www.tdcj.state.tx.us

5 “America’s overcrowded prisons: One nation, behind bars.” The Economist. 17 Aug. 2013. Web. 26 Aug. 2013.

6 Pew Center on the States, One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008 (Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts, February 2008).

7 Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: New Press, 2010. Print.

8 Uneven Justice: State Rates of Incarceration By Race and Ethnicity (Washington DC: The Sentencing Project, July 2007).

9 Independent Budget Office of the City of New York, NYC’s Jail Population: Who’s There and Why? (August 2013).

10 Henrichson and Delaney (2012).

11 Pew Center on the States, State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons (Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts, April 2011).

12 Bureau of Justice Statistics, Parents in Prison and their Minor Children (U.S. Department of Justice, 2010).

13 Alexander (2010).