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Prison Policy Initiative Finds That People Who Are Jailed Have Much Higher Rates of Social, Economic

Arrest, Release, Repeat:

How Police and Jails Are Misused to Respond to Social Problems

"Police and jails are supposed to promote public safety. Increasingly, however, law enforcement is called upon to respond punitively to medical and economic problems unrelated to public safety issues. As a result, local jails are filled with people who need medical care and social services, many of whom cycle in and out of jail without ever receiving the help they need. Conversations about this problem are becoming more frequent, but until now, these conversations have been missing three fundamental data points: how many people go to jail each year, how many return, and which underlying problems fuel this cycle.

In this report, we fill this troubling data gap with a new analysis of a federal survey, finding that at least 4.9 million people are arrested and jailed each year, and at least one in 4 of those individuals are booked into jail more than once during the same year. Our analysis shows that repeated arrests are related to race and poverty, as well as high rates of mental illness and substance use disorders. Ultimately, we find that people who are jailed have much higher rates of social, economic, and health problems that cannot and should not be addressed through incarceration.

Specifically, we find that:

  • Black Americans are overrepresented among people who were arrested in 2017. Despite making up only 13% of the general population, Black men and women account for 21% of people who were arrested just once and 28% of people arrested multiple times in 2017. This is partly reflective of persistent residential segregation and racial profiling, which subject Black individuals and communities to greater surveillance and increased likelihood of police stops and searches.

  • Poverty is strongly correlated with multiple arrests. Nearly half (49%) of people with multiple arrests in the past year had individual incomes below $10,000 per year. In contrast, about a third (36%) of people arrested only once, and only one in five (21%) people who had no arrests, had incomes below $10,000.

  • Low educational attainment increases the likelihood of arrest,especially multiple arrests. Two-thirds (66%) of people with multiple arrests had no more than a high school education, compared to half (51%) of those who were arrested once and a third (33%) of people who had no arrests in the past year.

  • People with multiple arrests are 4 times more likely to be unemployed(15%) than those with no arrests in the past year (4%).

  • Most people arrested multiple times don’t pose a serious public safety risk. The vast majority (88%) of people who were arrested and jailed multiple times had not been arrested for a serious violent offense in the past year."

To read the full report, click here.

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