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Poverty, Incarceration and Violent Crime in the United States

by Mark Reynolds, published

Conspicuously absent from our current national dialogue has seemingly been any notable discussion on issues of poverty, mass incarceration and violent crime in America.

The cycle of poverty, violence and incarceration was well documented in this harrowing investigative documentary on the city of Baltimore done by Al Jazeera. Statistics show that the issues raised in the short documentary remain significant, if often ignored, problems in the United States.

According to a study done by the United States Census Bureau the official poverty rate in America increased to 15.1 percent in 2010, up nearly a full percent from 2009. Poverty increased for the fourth straight year, and over 46 million Americans are now below the poverty threshold.

Meanwhile, incarceration rates have continued to rise along with poverty rates. According to Fareed Zakaria of Time Magazine, the prison population in the United States has quadrupled since 1980 from 150 per 150,000 adults to 760 per 150,000, giving American the highest incarceration rate in the world.

The costs of incarceration are staggering. In California, $4 billion more was spent on prisons than the University of California and state college systems during 2011. A college student costs California less than $10,000 per year to educate, while a prisoner costs over $45,000 per year to incarcerate. Nationwide, the United States is now spending around $70 billion per year on corrections according to the NAACP.

Incarceration rates have risen, but violence remains a significant problem within the United States, though violent crime rates have fallen. According to The Daily, as of June 15, 228 people had been murderedd in Chicago alone this year compared to the 144 Americans who had been killed in Afghanistan during the same time frame. Since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, 2,000 American troops have been killed there, while 5,000 residents of Chicago have been murdered during the same time frame.

According to the Washington Post, 6,551 Americans have been killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars thus far. Comparatively, according to The Disaster Center, between 14,000 and 17,000 Americans have been murdered each year since 2001.

Incarceration and poverty rates are on the rise in the United States, and while violent crime has been reduced nationwide over the past two decades, it remains a devastating and too common cause of death in many American communities.

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