Mass Incarceration in America

When we think of America we recall a tale told of the land of the free. where justice and liberty reign supreme. The United States has a population just a shade higher than 300 million, a mere 4% of the world’s population. However, we house 22% of the prisoners in the world. The prison system in America has some major flaws however we turn a blind eye towards it. How did a nation built on the ideals of freedom, ironically end up locking up so many people? How did we let this issue go unchecked for so long?

Many of us see criminals as nothing more than the scums of society and watch as they are essentially deleted from the world and call that justice. When they are eventually told to go rejoin society, they are turned away and frowned upon. We treat them not as humans but as a failure. These ex-prisoners can’t get jobs, housing or many forms of government assistance. They can’t vote for at least 7 years and in some cases depending on the crime committed can’t get a passport. While they are technically “free” these people are disconnected from society and often end up back in prison or homeless. I understand the need for having to pay a price for the crime, but must we turn our backs on these people. The idea of once a criminal always a criminal is often thrown around and is used as a way to justify the actions taken against ex-prisoners to effectively keep them in prisons longer. These are signs of a failed corrections system that does a better job locking peoples away and cutting them out of society rather than rebuilding people who committed crimes, so they can be effective members of society.

A major contribution factor in the prison population is drug activity. In 1971, President Nixon declared a war on drugs to crack down on drug use in America. This resulted in a big increase in violent and non-violent federal offences leading to more people being locked away. Within 20 years the prison population had doubled, and the number of drug related charges quadrupled especially in African American communities. US went from just over 200,000 prisoners in 1980 to 1.3 million in 2000. This upwards slope continued until 2010 where it had peaked at 2.7 million prisoners. Also, mandatory minimum prison sentences were enacted for drug or gun related federal offences due to the anti-drug act in 1986. With more people in prison for longer, the current issue of mass incarceration can be attributed as the results of these decisions.

Our prison system can be split in to 3 parts. The punishment, this is the prison sentence its self. The correction, this part is to keep them from repeating the same crime. And prevention, this part it’s to deterrer future criminals. In an ideal environment prevention and correction should be the most important part of our prison system. However, all are of equal importance.  If all parts of the system worked as intended, mass incarceration would not be a thing. Prevention seemed to have failed because more people end up in prison then before, it might have some small influence but external factors like support group do more to deterrer crime than the prison system does. Correction in theory does work but because ex-prisoners can’t reliably find a job, this system becomes obsolete. Since 2/3 of the measures taken by prisons don’t do much to solve crime in the US, prisons take in a tremendous number of prisoners without solving the root of the issue. Furthermore in 2010, $80 billion tax dollars were spent on the American prison system. Our tax dollars are being spent on a system that has ruined millions of lives and cut millions of people out of society and tore families apart.

Mass incarceration is a big problem for America that needs to be addressed. Millions have lost hope in the American dream. People who are arrested for drug related crimes are thrown in to the same mix with hard core criminals. These people need help and a second chance, and the current system does not give them that. Instead they are thrown out of prison expected to rebuild themselves without much help while being labeled as failures. We need to change to our prison system, its inhumane and unethical. Our tax dollars need to be spent on helping people not ruining them.

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