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America pays a huge price for imprisoning so many people

Abusive Behavior

Millions of dollars have already been allocated to build a new jail for youth in Baltimore, but do we really need more jails ("Jackson joins rally against youth jail," Nov. 9)?

The U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. We put more of our citizens in jail than any other country. Yet it wasn't always this way.

In 1970, the rate of people in jail or prison was 161 for every 100,000 people in the U.S. Around the world today, this rate remains the norm. Yet by 2008, the U.S. was incarcerating an astonishing 754 individuals per 100,000 people. Moreover, this problem doesn't affect everyone equally. More than 60 percent of the people in prison are minorities.

In the U.S., about 1.5 million children have a parent in prison. Not coincidentally, the number of children in foster care doubled between 1985 and 2000. We spend approximately $21,902 per child in foster care every year. Unfortunately, this is not money well spent. Children in foster care are 10 times more likely to experience abuse as children living in their own home, and a shocking 30 percent to 40 percent of people experiencing homelessness today were in the foster care system as children.

Our current system is applying individual-level solutions, such as incarceration and foster care, to society-level problems. Instead, we should be looking at the upstream causes of the problem, such as poverty, unemployment, and lack of educational opportunity and affordable housing.

Tam Lynne Kelley, Timonium

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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