Report: Nearly $1.9 Billion in Annual Earnings Lost by Former Prisoners in New York State Prisons

formerly imprisoned in New York State lose nearly $1.9 billion in earnings a year
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A report published today by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law finds that people who were formerly imprisoned in New York State lose nearly $1.9 billion in earnings a year compared to similarly situated New Yorkers who haven’t been in prison.

More than 80 percent of those losses are borne by Black and Latino New Yorkers, according to "Poverty and Mass Incarceration in New York: An Agenda for Change."

"Spending time in prison in New York State has severe financial repercussions for the rest of a person’s life, with disastrous consequences for them and their families,” said Ames Grawert, one of the authors of Poverty and Mass Incarceration in New York and senior counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program.

“Lawmakers must help break the connection between prison and poverty,” Grawert continued. “They must pass parole reform to reduce unnecessary reincarceration and shorten excessively long prison sentences, and they must make it possible for a person’s old records to be sealed if they have completed their sentences and stayed away from crime.”

According to Poverty and Mass Incarceration in New York, more than 330,000 people in New York State have been imprisoned at some point in their lives. Of that population, 145,800 are Black and as a group they lose $889.5 million in annual earnings; 104,600 are Latino and as a group they lose $749.9 million in annual earnings; and 76,200 are white and as a group they lose $214.2 million.

“While we cannot erase the harms done to generations disenfranchised by our criminal justice system, New York can start by prioritizing parole reform and creating budgets that invest in our communities and our schools, rather than our prisons,” said Wes Moore, Chief Executive Officer of Robin Hood and author of the report’s foreword. “The Brennan Center’s latest report is a stark reminder of the irrefutable and intolerable cost of mass incarceration – not only on our New York State budget, but on the more than 330,000 New Yorkers who have spent time in prison.

“Collectively, these New Yorkers – nearly 75% of whom are Black and Latinx – see their annual earnings reduced by nearly $1.9 billion as a result of incarceration, which could mean the difference between opportunity and instability for many.”

Poverty and Mass Incarceration in New York includes the following findings:

  • The racial disparities in New York State’s formerly imprisoned population are greater than the disparities nationwide. Nationally, Black people make up about 35 percent of the formerly imprisoned population. Even though New York’s demographic composition is comparable to the nation’s as a whole, Black people represent roughly 43 percent of the state’s formerly imprisoned population.
  • Although the prison population has been falling for years, the length of time a person spends in prison in New York has been trending upwards. Between 2013 and 2017, the percentage of people sentenced to a minimum term of 23 months or fewer decreased, while the percentage of people sentenced to 24 or more months increased.
  • The average minimum sentence in New York State is around 47 months, at a cost to taxpayers of approximately $73,000. Parole supervision, by comparison, costs around $2,000 annually.

To lessen the economic burden of incarceration in New York State, the report’s authors make these recommendations, among others:

  • Reform New York’s parole system. Pass the Less is More Act, which would lower the number of people who are reincarcerated for minor violations of parole and would allow people to earn early release from parole. Also, pass the Fair and Timely Parole Act, which would ensure that more people are granted parole, sooner.
  • Help formerly incarcerated individuals succeed. Pass “clean slate” laws that automatically seal the criminal records of those who have completed their sentences and stayed away from crime. Expand access to prison education programs. Remove barriers to housing.
  • Decrease the number of people entering New York’s criminal justice system by increasing access to pre-arraignment diversion and providing alternatives to prison, and by legalizing and regulating marijuana.
  • Reduce the overall length of all prison sentences by at least 25 percent.

On Thursday, February 25, Grawert will discuss this report’s findings with MSNBC anchor and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart, as part of Robin Hood’s No City Limits Conference.

Poverty and Mass Incarceration in New York is a follow-up to a September 2020 Brennan Center report, Conviction, Imprisonment, and Lost Earnings: How Involvement with the Criminal Justice System Deepens Inequality, which examined the effects of criminal convictions and prison time on earnings nationally.

Poverty and Mass Incarceration in New York is online here.

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law is a nonpartisan law and policy institute that works to reform, revitalize – and when necessary, defend – our country's systems of democracy and justice.

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