“From 1920, until 1970, this whole half-century of American history, the rate of incarceration was roughly level, at about 110 per 100,000. This is a broad spam of our history—the Roaring Twenties, prohibition, the Depression and all the social change there, World War II, the post-war economic boon, the Fifties, the explosion of suburbia, the Sixties and all the social turbulence. During this whole period the rate of incarceration is roughly level in the United States, at about 110 per 100,000. And this reflects the policies of police departments, prosecutors, and judges operating all over the country at local and state level.
“And, in 1970, this all changes so that by now the rate of incarceration nation-wide is over 700 per 100,000. The rate for African Americans is over 4,000 per hundred thousand. And so you have to wonder ‘what changed?’ Why did this half-century of stability get upended with this dramatic increase in incarceration in the United States?”
Attorney Eric Sterling, Founder, Executive Director of The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation (1989-2020)
Incarcerating US answers Sterling’s question.
Although we can’t trust reports of numbers from Russia or China, it has been widely reported that the United States has the largest population of incarcerated people in the world. There are currently somewhere between 2.3 and 2.4 million people incarcerated in the United States. Directed by Regan Hines, “Incarcerating US” is an overview of the causes of mass incarceration in the United States of America. The film profiles a few victims of injustice, highlights the causes, and provides resources to promote reform of sentencing policies.
The film covers:
• the war on drugs
• addiction as a crime instead of a disease
• broad-range conspiracy laws—that takes some explaining
• mandatory minimums or even life for non-violent crimes
I would add innocent people without resources choosing incarceration instead of taking a chance on the results of a trial, and the raw power of the well-established prison industrial complex.
Regarding the war on drugs, we learn that in the late 1960s, before the drug war began in earnest, law enforcement made arrests in 90% of homicides and other violent crimes. That figure is now approximately 60 percent. More killers on the street, more Americans needlessly incarcerated.
Naturally, this is one of those documentaries that infuriates, yet the reformers profiled are inspiring. Incarcerating US is another significant documentary that needs to be seen by teenagers and adults.
Resources provided via the film: