Joint Economic Committee Holds Hearing on the Economic Costs of the Surge in U.S. Prison Populations
On October 4, the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee held a hearing
entitled "Mass Incarceration in the United States: At What Cost?"
The hearing focused on the costs of maintaining a large prison system and the long-term labor market and social consequences of mass incarceration. The hearing also covered whether the increase in the prison population correlates with decreases in crime, and what alternative sentencing strategies and post-prison reentry programs have been the most successful at reducing incarceration rates in states and local communities.
Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) and Committee Vice Chair Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) ran the hearing. Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Bob Casey (D-PA) and Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA), Philip English (R-PA), and Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) were in attendance.
Witnesses included Dr. Glenn Loury, Economics and Social Sciences Professor at Brown University; Dr. Bruce Western, Director of the Inequality and Social Policy Program at Harvard University; Alphonso Albert, Executive Director of Second Chances; Michael Jacobson, Executive Director of the Vera Institute for Justice; and Pat Nolan, Vice President of Justice Fellowship, Prison Fellowship Ministries.
In his opening statement, Senator Webb explored the enormous economic costs of high incarceration rates and the disproportionate impact on minority communities. Witnesses all discussed the multiple challenges related to the return of incarcerated persons from prisons and jails to their communities and emphasized the importance of reentry programs
to help curb the economic and social costs of imprisonment.
"Providing employment and training assistance for ex-offenders is critical to reducing barriers to employment, and it benefits families," said Congresswoman Maloney. "That’s why Isupport the Second Chance Act. Putting more resources into creating economic opportunities that provide alternatives to crime would pay dividends in reducing crime and incarceration, while also strengthening families and communities."
In his remarks, Senator Brownback also stressed the importance of community-based reentry services and substance abuse treatment for people returning from prisons and jails. He spoke in support of the Second Chance Act and expressed his desire to see the bill enacted this year.
"We have an incredible opportunity to greatly improve the way in which this nation’s prison systems operate," said Senator Brownback. "The Second Chance Act, which is now pending before Congress will certainly bring much-needed change to the American criminal justice system."
Senator Webb and Representative Scott also expressed their support of the Second Chance Act.