Half of us have fam­ily who have served time

Study: 113 mil­lion Amer­i­cans have a loved one who has been in jail

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Christal Hayes

WASH­ING­TON – One of Felic­ity Rose’s first mem­o­ries of her fa­ther is of the sheet of glass that sep­a­rated them when she vis­ited him in pri­son.

Grow­ing up, she tried to hide his past, the pri­son sen­tences that kept him be­hind bars for drug crimes and the rip­ple ef­fect it had on her fam­ily, fi­nan­cially and psy­cho­log­i­cally.

Over time, Rose re­al­ized her fam­ily wasn’t alone. Her story was one of mil­lions, as noted in a first-of-its-kind study re­leased Thurs­day by FWD.us, where Rose works di­rect­ing re­search on crim­i­nal jus­tice.

Among the find­ings, ob­tained first by USA TO­DAY, were that half of adults in the USA have an im­me­di­ate fam­ily mem­ber who has been in­car­cer­ated. That’s about 113 mil­lion peo­ple who have a close fam­ily mem­ber who has spent time be­hind bars.

The study by FWD.us, an or­ga­ni­za­tion crit­i­cal of U.S. im­mi­gra­tion and crim­i­nal jus­tice pol­icy, was done in part­ner­ship with Cor­nell Uni­ver­sity. The con­clu­sions were drawn from a sur­vey of more than 4,000 peo­ple, a sam­ple size rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion.

Congress has a sweep­ing crim­i­nal jus­tice bill on its plate that has bi­par­ti­san sup­port – and ap­proval from the pres­i­dent. The First Step Act would be the largest over­haul of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem in decades. The mea­sure would give judges more say in sen­tenc­ing, al­low of­fend­ers to be in­car­cer­ated closer to their fam­i­lies and al­low in­mates in drug cases the chance to pe­ti­tion for lighter sen­tences.

The leg­is­la­tion passed the House but stalled in the Se­nate. Sen­a­tors have been push­ing Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., to let the mea­sure get a vote.

“There’s sup­port on both sides of the aisle. It just doesn’t seem like this should be that dif­fi­cult,” said Kevin Ring, pres­i­dent of FAMM, a non­profit group push­ing for changes in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem. He said changes in the mea­sure are “mod­est” in the grand scheme of things, but, like the name sug­gests, they’re a good first step.

“I think this re­port makes it crys­tal clear why changes are not only needed but nec­es­sary. This isn’t just num­bers, but lives,” said Ring, who was on the ad­vi­sory board for the study. “We seem to over­state the ben­e­fits of pri­son and un­der­state the costs: peo­ple’s lives and the lives of their fam­i­lies.”

The study found that one in seven peo­ple have an im­me­di­ate fam­ily mem­ber who has spent at least a year be­hind bars, and one in 34 peo­ple have an im­me­di­ate loved one who has spent more than 10 years or longer in pri­son.

The study says ar­rests af­fect ev­ery­one – in­clud­ing nearly the same num­ber of Repub­li­cans and Democrats – but num­bers of those af­fected in­crease when ex­am­in­ing mi­nori­ties and fam­i­lies liv­ing in poverty. The sur­vey says six of 10 African-Amer­i­cans and Na­tive Amer­i­cans have an im­me­di­ate fam­ily mem­ber who spent time be­hind bars.

One aim of the re­port is to show the im­pact of in­car­cer­a­tion and make it a lit­tle eas­ier for those af­fected to talk about it.

“This isn’t just a few peo­ple, this is mil­lions of peo­ple, but yet there’s so much shame and stigma at­tached to this is­sue, so much so that peo­ple just don’t talk about it,” Rose said. “There is a silent suf­fer­ing around the coun­try, but peo­ple need to know they’re not alone.”


Crim­i­nal jus­tice leg­is­la­tion is stuck in the Se­nate.

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