Prison (or the threat of prison) is supposed to be a deterrent to criminal activity. In reality, prison is often just a temporary holding ground through which an endless parade of the convicted is constantly rotated.

A late-2019 report by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) titled “Arrest, Release, Repeat” indicates that 25% of more of the 4.9 million defendants who are arrested each year are repeat offenders. Some 400,000-plus defendants will cycle in and out of jail as often as three (or more) times within a single year.

If you know much about the criminal justice system in America, you probably also won’t be surprised by the following information: Those who are jailed most often are “disproportionately black, low-income, less educated and unemployed.” In fact, 49% of those defendants with more than one arrest are impoverished, making less than $10,000 a year. In addition, even though black people make up just 13% of the nation’s population, they make up 21% of those who have been arrested once — and 28% of those arrested more than once.

Here’s another fact that probably surprises no one: The majority of those with multiple arrests are being jailed for nonviolent crimes, like drug possession or theft. According to the PPI, those with multiple arrests are likely to suffer from “substance abuse disorders and other illnesses, and much less likely to have access to health care.”

Ideally, the police and the jails are there to protect the public. In reality, they often penalize people of color for being poor, having a substance abuse disorder and being unable to obtain treatment through traditional means.

It’s increasingly clear that it’s time to take a hard look at this nation’s criminal justice system. It starts with individual efforts to avoid unfair prosecution, but it ultimately is going to take massive amounts of social change to make a big difference. In the meantime, if you or your loved one is facing charges, it’s simply smart to get legal assistance right away.

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