Imprisonment is a major contributing factor in establishing social inequality. Since the mid-1970s the U.S. imprisonment rate has increased ten-fold and the effects have been concentrated among Black Americans. Imprisonment diminishes the earnings of adult men, compromises their health, reduces familial resources, and contributes to family breakup. Many Black American men incarceration has involved drug use and distribution, not violent crime. Such mass imprisonment increases racial and class inequality—and may lead to more crime in the long term. Finally, there has been several policy reforms which limit prison time for drug offenders and for parolees who violate the technical conditions of their parole. But criminal justice reforms alone will not solve the problems that decades of “arbitrary” lengthy incarceration has caused.
A rise in incarceration rates parallel unemployment rates. Men with only a high school education, working for the steel industry and the auto industry, once could earn wages that could support a family. Their jobs promoted conformity, which supports stability, through daily routines and attachments to mainstream social institutions. Widespread joblessness in poor urban neighborhoods coupled with a booming drug trade that fostered addiction and income streams left young men in inner cities vulnerable to arrest and incarceration.
Social policies of "drug intolerances' and "third strike sentencing" maximized the creation of fragile families and their consequences. Women and children were left to deal with diminished household earnings, federal support and interventions, increased aggression towards children, child behavioral problems, and social marginalization - a vicious cycle of criminal justice system involvement increased.
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