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'Prison is the New Poverty Trap'

New York Times article examines the impact of long term prison sentences on families and low income communities

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Carl Harris, 47, whose days as a drug dealer ended at age 24, when he started two decades behind bars, playing with his dog at home in Washington. (Photo: Mary F. Calvert/ New York Times)

A New York Times article published Tuesday, "Prison and the Poverty Trap," examines the impact of the mass incarceration era and the consequential trap of poverty in low-income America.

Focusing on the impact of long-term prison sentences on family life, the piece tells the story of Carl Harris, whose youthful infractions and trumped up charges landed him in prison for nearly two decades dictating a life of welfare and homelessness for his wife and two daughters.

The Times reports:

The shift to tougher penal policies three decades ago was originally credited with helping people in poor neighborhoods by reducing crime. But now that America’s incarceration rate has risen to be the world’s highest, many social scientists find the social benefits to be far outweighed by the costs to those communities.

“Prison has become the new poverty trap,” said Bruce Western, a Harvard sociologist. “It has become a routine event for poor African-American men and their families, creating an enduring disadvantage at the very bottom of American society.”

“I wasn’t born in no jail, and I’m not going to die here,” Harris recalled. After serving over five years he vowed to turn his life around by giving up drugs, converting to Islam and working towards a high school equivalency degree; however, he still had 14 more years to spend in prison.

“I was like a man coming out of a cave after 20 years,” he said after his 2009 release. “The streets were the same, but everything else had changed. My kids were grown. They had to teach me how to use a cellphone and pay for the bus.”

You can read the rest of the story here.

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