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Top Democrat: Mass incarceration in US is 'an embarrassment'

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Tess Bonn, The Hill, July 16, 2019 | comments

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) told Hill.TV on Tuesday that the state of mass incarceration in the U.S. is an embarrassment, particularly when compared with other countries.

“It’s really an embarrassment in our country that we have more people locked up in the United States than any place in the world,” said Bass, who is head of the Congressional Black Caucus.

According to Prison Policy Initiative, the U.S. locks up more people per capita than any other nation in the world, at a rate of 698 per 100,000 residents. As a result, more than 2.3 million people are confined to state, local or federal prisons.

Bass, who is a member on the House Judiciary Committee, said the reason why many Americans remain locked up is because they can’t afford bail. She argued that if lawmakers addressed the issue, the U.S. could drastically reduce its prison population.

“A person that can’t afford a $5,000, $10,000 bail in many cities, in many states, can sit in jail for 12 months or longer awaiting trial,” she told Hill.TV. “If you dealt with the poverty aspect, you could probably reduce the population by 50 percent with that alone.”

Though there are more men are in prison than women, the rate of female imprisonment has been twice as high as that of men since 1980, according to the Sentencing Project, which analyzed data from the federal Bureau of Justice.

House Judiciary subcommittee on Tuesday is holding a hearing focused on women and girls in the criminal justice system.

Piper Kerman, whose memoir inspired the Netflix hit "Orange Is the New Black," is slated to testify about her time in prison. Kerman was incarcerated after pleading guilty to money laundering and drug trafficking charges.

Cindy Shank, whose time in prison was turned into an HBO documentary, is also scheduled to testify.

Bass said she hopes the hearing will shed new light on the issue, which she argues doesn't get enough attention.

“I’m so excited that now, finally in our country, we are looking at the war on drugs, we’re looking at mass incarceration, and the consequences that that has had on our country,” she told Hill.TV. “But typically when these conversations happen, the conversations are really only about men — they are not about women and they are not about children.

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