A high incarceration rate has a profoundly harmful effect on minority communities, which implies that the criminal justice system is deeply flawed. The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, and low-income communities (of color especially, as well as poor white folks) and homeless communities are vastly disproportionately targeted by law enforcement and the US court system. When communities are consistently targeted by law enforcement and the criminal justice system, relationships suffer, children are often left traumatized, families are torn apart, and families' financial stability is affected. Due to the generations of police targeting the same communities, people suffer intergenerational trauma as well.
Authors such as Michelle Alexander and Kristian Bale have detailed how the US police force was, in part, created through slave patrols, and how the Thirteenth Amendment gave way to the rise of mass incarceration, especially of Black people.
Due to high arrest and incarceration rates, US court systems are often full to the brim with processing cases. As a result, many low-income defendants are assigned to overworked, overwhelmed public defenders who can be notorious for pushing defendants to take plea deals rather than be truly represented.