An inmate looks out of his cell at Pontiac Correctional Institution in 2003. | AP File Photo/Seth Perlman

‘Tough-on-crime’ incarceration hurts families along with offenders

SHARE ‘Tough-on-crime’ incarceration hurts families along with offenders
SHARE ‘Tough-on-crime’ incarceration hurts families along with offenders

The United States incarcerates a higher percentage of its people than any other country. According to a new study by Cornell University and, nearly half of all Americans — 113 million people — have had a family member serve time behind bars. They are someone’s child, aunt, uncle, brother, sister, father, mother, grandmother or grandfather. The impact incarceration places on families has long been an overlooked aspect of our enthusiastic embrace of “tough on crime” policies and practices.

Too many Americans have experienced the loss of an immediate family member through incarceration, including one in five losing a parent to incarceration — causing a pandemic of loss and trauma.

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Those with the least amount of resources bear the greatest burden. This report suggests that the rates of incarceration do not differ significantly by political party affiliation — incarceration happens to Democrats and Republicans alike. However, people in the southeastern part of the country, in communities of color, and those with lower income are more likely to be affected.

Lest you begin to think, “Well if you do the crime, you should do the time”, consider the fact that family members do the time with them. As highlighted in this recent report, if you are among the 50 percent of adult persons in our country with an incarcerated family member, you will pay up to 10 times more to talk with them by phone than you would to talk with a friend in California. You will have limited ability to visit with them, and if you are a child with a parent in jail, it is increasingly likely you cannot visit face to face with them at all, forced instead to use a video monitor. You will have reduced family income. Even your housing may be in jeopardy because you cannot pay the rent or mortgage, and if your family member has been incarcerated for a drug-related crime, you may even lose the right to live where you do if your family member returns to your home following their release.

Over the past 10 years I have studied incarcerated women and mothers in jail. The multi-generational impact of incarceration stands out as a significant factor in their health and well-being. In a recent study, almost 50 percent of women incarcerated in a Milwaukee County jail facility reported co-occurring health and mental health problems. A more recent study I’ve conducted revealed that almost 80 percent reported that a family member has been incarcerated, and 25 percent have four or more family members incarcerated.

We need to support policy changes that reduce incarceration and the number of financial, health and mental health consequences that fall on families, not just the offender. We are not just punishing those who break the law, we are also punishing their families, too. And that is a lot of people.

Susan J. Rose, professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Board Director, Haymarket Center, Chicago

No cost information

Why will the CTA Green Line Damen Station cost $70 million? If the government needs more money for public transportation, it should be publicly transparent with their public transportation decisions.

Absolutely no cost accounting information on the massive cost of the Damen Station project has been provided to the public, then verified by a third party source.

Roger Romanelli, Fulton Market Association, executive director

Preventing war

I want to express my gratitude to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., for co-sponsoring Sen. Tom Udall’s Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act of 2018 (S. 3517). This bill prevents the Trump administration from going to war with Iran without congressional approval.

As a former intern to Sen. Durbin, I am glad to know that my senator is taking active steps to stop the U.S. from entering yet another conflict. The United States has been at war for three-quarters of my life. Sen. Durbin is doing the right thing by taking back congressional authority to declare war.

When some form of this legislation is reintroduced in the next year, I hope Sen. Durbin will join again and that Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., will also join.

Elizabeth Bajjalieh, Palatine

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