11/22/2007 02:30 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

This Thanksgiving, Most of All

Like most Americans, I have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

What I'm most thankful for is that I'm not in jail eating processed turkey on a plastic plate.

I'm thinking about the children of the incarcerated. There are more than 2.4 million kids with parents languishing in our jails and prisons due to legislators who insist on being tough rather than smart on crime.

America, Prison Nation, has been a costly and harmful failure.

The number of Americans in prison has risen eight-fold since 1970, with little impact on crime but at great cost to taxpayers and society, researchers said in a report calling for a major justice-system overhaul.

The report, by the JFA Institute, a Washington criminal-justice research group, "included eight criminologists from major U.S. public universities" among its authors.

The report said the prison population is projected to grow by another 192,000 in five years, at a cost of $27.5 billion to build and operate additional prisons. At current rates, one-third of all black males, one-sixth of Latino males, and one in 17 white males will go to prison during their lives.

Women represent the fastest growing segment of the prison population. The long-range consequences are enormous.

The result is increased social and racial inequality. "The massive incarceration of young males from mostly poor- and working-class neighborhoods, and the taking of women from their families and jobs, has crippled their potential for forming healthy families and achieving economic gains," it said.

This Thanksgiving, as I sit down to a bountiful meal with friends and family, I'll be thinking of these inmates and their children on the outside.

I hope you will too.

Jeralyn Merritt blogs daily at TalkLeft: The Politics of Crime.