Incarceration Present and Past: 2015 and 1982

October 7, 2015
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October 6, 2015: The New York Times reported that the Justice Department is preparing to release about 6,000 people incarcerated in federal prisons for drug crimes at the end of this month. Notably, the Times stated that about a third of those incarcerated who are expected to be released are undocumented immigrants who will be deported. The effort is part of a plan to reduce prison overcrowding and to revisit the long sentences increasingly imposed upon nonviolent drug offenders as the War on Drugs picked up speed. The move comes at a time of particular bipartisanship in criminal justice reform, moving away from the tough-on-crime consensus of the past, toward ending mass incarceration.

October 14, 1982: President Ronald Reagan declared illegal drugs a threat to national security and launched the War on Drugs. Reagan announced his administration would begin a $200 million dollar effort to establish drug task forces throughout the country, with the goal of crippling the mob. The announcement focused on the need to incarcerate more people and “…eliminate this confederation of professional criminals, this dark, evil enemy within.” $34 million was to be directed towards construction of new prisons and jails to house the additional prisoners the new efforts intended to create. A Hartford Courant article from Oct. 15, 1982 states that the funding would enable new facilities to house 1,260 additional people. In fact, since 1982 the prison and jail population has increased by over 1.5 million people, a 250% increase. Reagan’s funding hardly prepared the criminal justice system and correctional facilities for the massive prison dependency that unfolded over the following decades.


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