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Mass incarceration doesn’t just unnecessarily deprive people of their freedom — it also comes with enormous social and economic costs for formerly incarcerated individuals, their families, and their communities.

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Why It Matters

The fiscal consequences of mass incar­cer­a­tion are immense. The United States spends about $270 billion annu­ally on our crim­inal justice system, with the vast major­ity of those costs borne by taxpay­ers. Build­ing and running pris­ons is an aston­ish­ingly expens­ive enter­prise. Many states spend tens of thou­sands of dollars per year to incar­cer­ate a single person — rival­ing what it would cost would cost to send them to an elite, private univer­sity.

But the price of impris­on­ment extends far beyond the money spent by states and the federal govern­ment. Mass incar­cer­a­tion exacer­bates poverty and inequal­ity, hold­ing back millions of men and women. People who have inter­ac­ted with the justice system — a dispro­por­tion­ate number of whom are racial and ethnic minor­it­ies — face discrim­in­a­tion in the hiring process, earn lower wages, have weaker social networks, and exper­i­ence less upward economic mobil­ity than those who are never incar­cer­ated. And they aren’t the only ones to shoulder these burdens: Their famil­ies and communit­ies suffer as well, and the effect rever­ber­ates across gener­a­tions. 

Through our compre­hens­ive, multi­fa­ceted approach to crim­inal justice reform, Bren­nan Center for Justice seeks to expose these hidden costs of incar­cer­a­tion — from the billions of dollars in fines and fees levied against those enter­ing the crim­inal justice system to the profound social and economic hard­ships encountered by those who exit it.

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