According to recent research, the United States incarceration rate for men, specifically those between 25 and 34 is shockingly high. In 2010, 93 percent of prisoners were male, and more than 30 percent of those were millennials. Given the overall incarceration rates in the United States, that number can’t be taken lightly.
The U.S. has the world’s second highest incarceration rate. 5.8 percent of the U.S. male population in 2010 were current or former prisoners. That’s a 4 percent increase in just 30 years.
The increase in incarceration has a devastating effect on the workforce. The Council of Economic Advisors points out that workers are removed from the labor force for the period they are in prison, and they may also be removed long-term due to work restrictions and stigmatization
This raises a few questions. What crimes lead to imprisonment? Should those crimes lead to incarceration? How can we drive down the incarceration rate? And how are former prisoners expected to re-enter the workforce as contributing members when policy won’t allow it?
With America’s incarceration rate increasing, the damage on the economy can only get worse. America needs able-bodied workers to fill labor demands, but criminal and regulatory policies hinder former prisoners from rejoining the labor market.
The CEA notes many states invoke work restrictions such as occupational licensing that keeps former prisoners from certain jobs. And on top of the restrictions, there is a general stigma around former criminals that keeps them from gainful employment.
The bigger problem is overcriminalization. The United States has an excessive amount of laws accompanied by harsh sentencing and “mandatory minimum” laws that fail to take circumstances into account. Given how high the millennial prison population is, that excess and harshness severely affects us. If America’s prison population is ever going to improve, federal and state leaders must act to reform our broken criminal justice system.