Members of a National Academy of Sciences committee presented a report on high incarceration rates at the State Bar of New Mexico this morning. The NAS says the growth in lockups in the United States is historically unprecedented and unlike any other country in the world.
The U.S. has too many people behind bars, according to the NAS report, and the high rate of imprisonment has surpassed any public safety benefit.
Bruce Western, vice chair of the committee, says a decline in behavioral health facilities is a factor, and more than half of the people in prison are coping with mental illness and substance abuse issues. "We know that as the institutional populations in mental health declined, prison populations increased," he said.
The report recommends improving prison conditions and shortening the length of sentences, among other things.
The report also says the spike in incarceration rates over the last 40 years was almost entirely concentrated in poor communities and can be tied to a loss of manufacturing jobs and economic opportunities.
Click here for a KUNM web exclusive series on incarceration and mental health in New Mexico.