Mass Incarceration and Prison Reform

America is always seen as the most powerful and better country just because it identifies itself as “home of the brave and free.” In reality, there’s not a lot of freedom and the way this country is managed makes many rethink that statement. America is truly problematic and this country is currently facing way too many problems. It always seems like there is a never ending list of problems with this country.

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One of those problems involve prisons. American prisons are extremely controversial and widely talked upon and it is no secret how terrible their criminal system is. Prisons are currently causing many conflicts and the fact that there are many innocent people locked away and sentenced to harsh sentences is astounding, which brings up one of the biggest problem within the American prison system; mass incarceration and how it is handled. Mass incarceration is destroying the prison system. American prisons are overcrowded, and mainly, this is because of the amount of people that are thrown in jail. Rather than going easier on nonviolent offenders, the U.S. prison system, instead, sends its prisoners to local jails and federal prisons, cramming a ridiculous amount of people into one prison and provides little to no recovery programs for current convicts; thus ensuring many convicts will return where they started and often end back in prison. While many convicts will return, still not fixing the problem, there is also a plethora of innocent individuals stuck in prison due to many nonviolent crimes.

Innocent people are constantly being put away for crimes they either did not commit, or they received an unfair sentence that most likely needed unnecessary jail time. Not only are they receiving unfair treatment, but now it has gotten to the point where the punishment is worse than the crime. Should our society even be punishing people for certain crimes? Shouldn’t we find a way to change the system to give them better options than time served? There are some people in this country that are serving a harsher sentence more than they deserve. America “imprisons people for things that should not be crimes (drug possession, prostitution, unintentionally violating incomprehensible regulations)” (The Economist) and imposes incredibly harsh penalties. For instance, at this moment, someone is currently in prison serving more than they need for shoplifting or stealing, which can be seen as a nonviolent crime, but to be honest, there should not be a sentencing on this crime. Because of all this and being in prison, the falsification of being guilty destroys the lives of the innocence and many question whether or not they deserve to be in prison.

On the other hand, America currently has people in prison for nonviolent drug offenses, which sparked the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs was launched in response to the well known cocaine, also known as crack cocaine. This was announced by President Ronald Reagan. With this war, this points fingers mainly towards the drug marijuana, which is commonly known as cannabis. Marijuana is a substance “that has landed millions of people in prison or jail over the years, more than any other drug” (“How America…” Surico). Whether people should be put in prison for possessing (or doing) marijuana is a popular debatable topic. It seems to be widely discussed upon when talking about placing innocent people in prison for this drug. How many people are actually locked up for a drug offense? Almost half a million people, which is truly absurd and shocking. Looking at one of the detailed pie diagrams, there are currently 200,000 people locked up in state prisons, 118,000 in local jails, and 18,000 in federal prisons (“Mass Incarceration…” Wagner and Sawyer). Those who do and did possess marijuana should not be convicted. As many people know, marijuana has some positive effects on the human body. Evidently, this substance is known to help medically. The people who were convicted for possessing marijuana may have had the drug for medical reasons. For some, marijuana helps people, especially if a person is dealing with a mental illness, to calm themselves down, or for serious health problems. There are people in prison serving abnormal and unfair time for doing marijuana when it has been proven that it can help medically. Rather than focusing on the people who possess this drug, America should focus more on incarcerating individuals that possess deadly and dangerous drugs that are causing people to become violent and murderous, such as PCP, bath salts, Flakka, and many others.

Racism/racial Inequality is such a touchy topic to talk about because it angers many people and no matter what, an ongoing battle continues to go back and forth because of this. However, this associates well to the innocent problem. It is no secret that America is seen as a bit racist. Most races, aside from Caucasians, are thrown behind bars, as African Americans and Hispanics constitutes the majority of those in prison. According to John Surico, “the current rate of incarceration for African American men is nearly six times as much as that of their white counterparts” (Surico), which is anticipated, but nevertheless horrible to think about. Out of the 2.2 million in prison, about a million are black. In Michelle Alexander’s introduction to The New Jim Crow, she extensively discusses the racial problems surrounding prisons. African Americans, as Alexander reveals, are commonly labeled as a felon. Because of this, most of them were banned from voting, taking literacy tests, denied food stamps and educational opportunities, and excluded from jury services. In comparison with drugs, Alexander mentions how drugs brought out the worst. She states how “the media was saturated with images of black ‘crack whores’… -images that seemed to confirm the worst negative racial stereotypes…” (Alexander). Looking at today, there are so many African Americans that are accused of doing a crime they did not commit. Social media captures so much and although it is hard to keep up with recent news, you will most likely see the words African American, or black, and “accused” linked with one another at least once a day. As Eric Schlosser states, “one out of every fourteen black men is now in prison or jail” (“The Prison Industrial”). Today’s society is filled with so much racial inequality and false accusations against African Americans and Hispanics and most of the accused end up in jail, when they are most likely innocent. This seems to be happening on a daily basis.

It’s always a fulfilled moment when a prisoner is finally released from prison. It is known that those who are innocent, on their best behaviour during their sentence, or served a proportional sentence, are often released early from their sentencing. On the contrary, ex-felons are more likely to return back to prison. Since many people, who were in prison, are seen as ex-convicts or ex-felons, they are no longer treated fairly. Many are banned from voting and whatnot. It is crucial for an ex-convict to do what they can to get their life back on track. Because of a lot of disadvantages that ex-felons may come across in life after prison, this may send them into a downward spiral and fall back into the criminal life, which is why it is important for them to keep a steady life and to distance themselves away from any crime, if possible, as “ex-convicts who find a job and a place to stay are less likely to return to crime” (America’s Prisons are Failing…). Most of the time, if the convict was innocent from the beginning, returning back to their life is easier than those who are truly guilty and released. It isn’t always easy for the guilty. However, life after prison is their chance to start over again, to ensure they have a new and improved life.

Many people have given their solutions on the everlasting problems in American prisons, regarding overcrowding due to the repeated incarceration of innocent people. In any case, focusing more on rehabilitation is the main goal here. Innocent people are thrown away in jail and prison, forced to be integrated with people that truly committed dangerous crimes. It isn’t fair to combine those who are innocent with the guilty, which is why the idea of rehabilitation centers are perfect. Take a look at those convicted for using marijuana for medical use. Instead of sending them to prison to be treated like they are a criminal, it is better to send them to a rehabilitation center so they can get the help they need. Matter of fact, nonviolent drug offenses, not considering marijuana, should require shorter sentences. Equally important to the previous solution, the general idea of peacemakers made quite a good impression. In any case, these solutions would make America’s prison system better. America should at least follow Norway’s prison system, since it is quite successful. Norway “relies on the concept called ‘restorative justice,’ which aims to repair the harm caused by crime rather than punish people” (“Why Norway’s…” Christina Sterbenz). It is important to do whatever we can to reduce to amount of people that are incarcerated every year. American prisons should not be constantly overcrowded.

The amount of innocent people that are thrown in jail has been one of the main causes of mass incarceration. With all of the prisons and jails that are in America, most of them are reaching their maximum capacity and the numbers circulating the number of prisoners in prisons and jails seems to continue climbing. Mass incarceration has already broken up so many families and there are still prisoners that already served their sentences and are currently still locked up, “like kidnapping victims or slaves” (“The Moral Failures…” Wilkinson). With the solutions listed above, this will definitely reduce the amount of people in American prisons. Although the US will most likely still have the highest incarceration rate, it’s certainly a step forward in ending the problem.

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