The history and legacy of mass incarceration in the U.S.



As a result of stricter drug laws and more rigid sentencing guidelines enacted in the 1970s, the U.S. prison population has grown by 500 percent over the past thirty years.  Over 2 million Americans are in jails today — about half of them for non-violent crimes — and the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, five times more than in England; 12 times more than in Japan.  U.S. prisons are overcrowded and governments at all levels are overwhelmed by their costs.  Furthermore, many studies show that mass incarceration may in fact increase crime and that it has devastating effects on poor families and communities.  In this hour of Radio Times we’ll explore the legacy of mass incarceration in the U.S. and look at why it may be time to rethink laws and policies intended to ensure public safety.  We turn to three local researchers for perspective and analysis — KEITH REEVES of Swarthmore College, JANE SIEGEL of Rutgers, and HEATHER ANN THOMPSON of Temple.

AP Photo/Reed Saxon

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal