The American prison system exists to keep citizens safe, punish criminals, and provide rehabilitation services whenever necessary. Over the years, the government has used prisons to serve more than just the above mentioned functions. The number of Americans who end up in prisons has increased in the last five decades. These changes were in part due to the creation of aggressive criminal laws passed by Congress. Today, American prisons are overcrowded. Worse, it is the people of color who make up a large portion of American convicts. Indeed, different ideas regarding the reasons for the overcrowding of American prisons abound. Critics of the prison system have cited the minimal benefits of keeping young men and women in prison. They have mentioned the costs to the taxpayer, the effect of jail terms on drug addicts, mentally ill, and families. At the same time, researchers have proposed various methods of dealing with mass incarceration in the country. Some have suggested a change of criminal laws, terms of sentences, more police on the streets, and medical help for drug addicts. Despite the different arguments presented by these researchers, they contend that mass incarceration does not reduce cases of crime in the country.
Why is the Theme Discussed?
Overcrowding in American prisons has triggered the debate over the effectiveness of mass incarceration. In the past, the U.S government proposed long sentences for criminals with the aim of reducing crime incidences in American communities. At the time, individuals without high school diplomas, decent jobs, and low income engaged in crime to provide for themselves and their families. Many of them ended up in prison for selling or using illegal drugs. The government hoped that such a move would help them tackle the drug problem in the country. However, the arrest and imprisonment of young Americans contributed to an increase in poverty in black communities. The men who were arrested were the sole providers of their families meaning that these families had one source of income. Worse, former convicts do not get employment opportunities easily because of their criminal record. Therefore, some of them revert to their old habits of selling drugs to keep up with their counterparts.
Connection with Current Problems
Mass incarceration is a practice that impedes poverty reduction efforts in the country. Research demonstrates that the number of Americans living in poverty would fall by over 20 percent if the government could reduce mass incarceration. Researchers have proven that 60 percent of former inmates remain unemployed one year after their release. Worse, many American adults have a criminal record that may show up during a background check. Research demonstrates that people without a criminal record gain employment even when they are not qualified for the position. Additionally, keeping people locked up in jails reduces their lifetime earnings, as well as intergenerational earnings. Employers tend to limit the incomes of former inmates. Reduced incomes present future problems for the incarcerated individuals along with their families. Worse, serving a jail term presents roadblocks for the affected individuals when seeking cash assistance from the government.
The activities of the justice system in the country costs the taxpayer over 260 billion annually. The costs of mass incarceration grew by 400 percent over the last 30 years. Hard working Americans have to contribute towards the maintenance of these prisons. Many men and women spend a large part of their adulthood in prisons. Upon their release, these individuals have to deal with stigmatization, which reduces their chances of gaining employment. The effects of incarceration of men and women last a lifetime, especially for individuals from low income communities. The crime wave of the 1980’s contributed to the introduction of punitive measures in the judicial system. Tough crime policies in the 1980’s led to a disproportionate impact for people from low income communities. Legislatures of this era believed in punishing crime by either locking them up in prisons or putting them through rehabilitation programs (Arvanites & Asher, 1995). The fear of crime and unrest in the country contributed to the development of the mass incarceration in the country. These actions had far reaching effects on the people affected. Incarceration became the default setting rather than the last resort for the judicial system at the time. The move affected individuals with low income and those without high school diplomas.
Mass incarceration is a practice that threatens the democracy in the American society. It is a system of correction that drives poverty, racial injustice, and economic inequality among the incarcerated and their families. American prisons hold twenty five percent of the world’s prisoners. Most of these prisoners are black men who are separated from their families for many years. Once locked in these correctional facilities, black men cannot work and improve the living conditions of their families. Some of them leave behind women with more than one child. These women have to work long hours to earn enough money to pay rent, fees, and cater for other bills. As a result, poverty remains a problem in many black families in the country. Economic inequality becomes a reality when these black families cannot compete with their white counterparts.
Leaders can eliminate mass incarceration by adopting less punitive measures for low level offenses. The judicial system resorts to incarceration as the first mode of punishment for all types of offenses. Most state and federal prisoners are locked up for non-violent crimes. For instance, many jail mates spend time in prison while they await their sentencing. Others end up in prison for violating their conditions of their parole or probation. Over 1.7 million people spend their lives in prison without a public safety rationale. Indeed, punishment of crime is paramount if the government is tackle social crime in American communities. However, the severe punishment that criminals receive is not warranted. Researchers have provided ample evidence showing that these measures of correcting criminals are expensive and unnecessary. Instead, they recommend alternative actions that reduce recidivism.
The government should change criminal laws with the aim of removing prison as the only method of correcting non-violent offenders. Some of the most appropriate punishments for low level crimes include community service, probation, electronic monitoring, and rehabilitation. The correctional facilities should apply these measures to drug related crimes in the country. It is not efficient for the judicial system to send drug offenders to prison for many years. The main problem in such cases is the availability of drugs in the black communities meaning that they will continue with the practice of selling drugs once released. Although the process of changing criminal laws may take years, it is the only course of action that will reduce the number of youth wasting away in American prisons.
Individuals with addition and mental health problems require medical treatment and not time in prison. Half of the people who end in American prisons suffer from mental health issues or drug addiction. In fact, American cells hold more mentally ill people than institutions for the mentally challenged. Prisons do not help such people overcome their problems instead, incarceration worsens their condition. Treatment will ensure that people with mental health problems or drug addiction become useful members of society. They can recover, apply for employment opportunities, and help their families where possible. At the same time, these individuals require constant observation by probation officers to ensure that they recover fully. In some cases, they made need to spend some time in prison depending on the nature of the crime that they committed.
The act of deploying additional police officers to the streets prevents people from committing crime. The presence of more officers on the streets creates the perception that there is more at stake for committing a crime. Mass incarceration has failed to act as a deterrent to crime in society. Instead of reforming the lives of the convicts, it contributes to the creation of recidivism. In the 1990’s the levels of crime in the streets of New York reduced because of the presence of police men and women.
The main reason behind the prison boom was the desire of the government to control low income black communities that were excluded from the economic boom of the industrial era. The government did not want to tackle the problem of unemployment witnessed in these black communities. People engaged in social crime to realize the American Dream. Mass incarceration took root in the country because the government failed to deal with gun violence, economic marginalization, and mental illness. Instead, it created a judicial system where low level offenders wasted their lives in prisons. The government contributed to the problem of mass incarceration that is evident in society today.
The corrupt system managed by corrupt politicians contributed to the development of the problem of mass incarceration. Elected leaders in the political sphere have taken advantage of prisons to mollify fears regarding crimes in the country. On top of that, they have used these institutions to promote the resurgence of anti-civil rights politics. Undoubtedly, the problem of mass incarceration is one that benefits many people in the American society. Therefore, dealing with it requires transforming the social issues that black people have dealt with for many years. They are the ones affected the most by mass incarceration.
The process of writing that the author utilized in the book contradicted my personal beliefs regarding the debate over mass incarceration. Prior to reading the book, I had the perception that sentencing criminals to prison was the best method of tackling crime in communities. However, the author presented opposing views that helped me rethink my previous stand on the topic of mass incarceration. For instance, the writer presents the views of researchers who have proven that spending time in prison does not reduce social crime. Instead, it increases the odds of these criminals engaging in criminal activities upon their release. The researchers provide evidence showing that the chances of former convicts gaining employment are lower than those of law abiding citizens. Additionally, the author proves that keeping offenders in prison for committing low level crimes is an expensive venture.
The author goes on to provide the reader with alternative ways of dealing with offenders. It is not necessary for all offenders to end up in prison. Rather, the government can help them overcome their problems through other less expensive means. For example, the correctional facilities can put criminals through community service to help them become law abiding citizens. Community service helps these individuals appreciate the importance of working hard for an income and the joy that comes with earning a salary. Medical treatment is another remedy that correctional facilities can adopt in helping people with drug related problems. Sometimes, drug addicts need professional help to help them overcome the urge to sell and use drugs.
The problem of drug sale and use in American societies is not as simple as many perceive. Drug dealers gain entry into the country through the Mexico-American border. The government of Mexico has tried to deal with drug trafficking into U.S soil to no avail. Many people in black communities have access to these drugs. Whenever the police arrest these individuals, they do not help them reform. Instead, they withdraw them from society for a certain period of time. After serving their sentences, most of these convicts go back to selling drugs.
In conclusion, mass incarceration is an effective method of dealing with crime in a country as diverse as America. The act of sending all offenders to prison only results in overcrowding in American jails. Instead of helping criminals reform their lives, keeping them in prison only prevents them from committing new crimes and deters would be offenders from engaging in criminal activities.