Former Stoneleigh Fellow Danielle Sered spoke to Yes! Magazine about myths surrounding incarceration as a deterrent to crime.
The United States now has 2.3 million people behind bars of some form or another. These are not 2.3 million isolated individuals—their imprisonment sends reverberations into their families and communities. On any given day, 2.7 million children have a parent in prison. Incarcerating that parent removes a source of financial and emotional support for both children and adult family members. For families who are already in economically precarious situations, removing a parent can plunge them into poverty, reduce their safety, and make them more vulnerable to arrest and incarceration.
This is not to say that we don’t need interventions when harm and violence happen. But prisons have proven again and again to be an ineffective intervention. First, we must remember that incarceration is a form of punishment and incapacitation that happens after harm has occurred, not before. We must also remember that incarceration addresses only certain types of harm. People who sell drugs on the street risk arrest and imprisonment. But the same rarely applies to wealthy people like the Sackler family, who earned billions from OxyContin, the addictive painkiller launched in 1996 that spawned today’s opioid crisis. Likewise, board members and corporate executives responsible for oil spills and other environmental disasters or for precipitating economic crises rarely face handcuffs and jail time.