Misuse of Police and Jails to Respond to Medical and Economic Problems

by Vins
Published: Updated:

People who are imprisoned as repeat offenders are more likely to be poor, unemployed, or homeless, according to a study released by the Prison Policy Institute in August 2019. The study, titled “Arrest, Release, Repeat,” found that people in need of medical care and social services “cycle in and out of jail without ever receiving the help that they need.” The authors of the report found that repeated arrests are “related to race and poverty, as well as high rates of mental illness and substance use disorders.”

The Prison Policy Initiative study reported that, in 2017, 4.9 million individuals were arrested and booked. Of those, 3.5 million were arrested only once that year, while nearly 930,000 were arrested twice; and nearly 430,000 were arrested three or more times. Those arrested multiple times were, according to the study, disproportionately Black, low-income, less educated, and unemployed. Noting that the vast majority were arrested for non-violent crimes, the study recommended that instead of incarceration, “public investments in employment assistance, education and vocational training, and financial assistance” would better address the conditions that led marginalized individuals to have contact with the police in the first place.

In its report, Truthout highlighted the case of Robert McCoy, a repeat offender, who was paroled in New York City in June 2018 after a cycle of imprisonment. Only two months after he lost his job, McCoy became a victim of Operation Lucky Bag, which Truthout described as “a police sting in which seemingly abandoned bags are planted and those who pick them up are arrested.” “It looked like it has been abandoned,” McCoy told Truthout, regarding the bag that led to his re-arrest.  McCoy plead guilty and served 100 days in prison for the charges of taking the bag and violating his probation.

As Truthout reported, policing practices, such as the New York Police Department’s controversial Operation Lucky Bag, target people living in or nearby public housing complexes. Police often misuse their power, for example by arresting people who are standing or sitting in front of a building for obstruction of justice or disorderly conduct when they refuse a police officer’s order to move. In turn, an arrest can lead the New York City Housing Authority to trigger eviction proceedings against that person.

Although the New York Daily News  reported on the renewal of the NYPD’s controversial Lucky Bag program in February 2019, the establishment press has failed to cover the larger issues raised by the Prison Policy Institute’s study, including how people who are jailed repeatedly have much higher rates of social, economic, and health problems that cannot and should not be addressed through incarceration.

Source: Victoria Law, “Arrest, Release, Repeat: New Report Exposes the Vicious Cycle of Imprisonment,” Truthout, August 27, 2019, https://truthout.org/articles/arrest-release-repeat-new-report-exposes-vicious-cycle-of-imprisonment/.

Student Researcher: Carina Ramirez (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)