Overpopulation in US Prisons: a Result of Punishing Nonviolent Offenders

Releasing prisoners is never a good thing, right? Due to the over abundance of US incarcerations for several reasons, over 18 state prisons are overpopulated. Thus causing several major issues within the prison, the communities around and the overall justice system in the United States. Reforms should be brought to the government to solve the insane amount of incarcerations for non violent offenders which populate our prisons by 41%. It is an act that is necessary in order to solve the problem of overcrowding.

Ten of the eighteen states that face overcrowding in their state prisons are: Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Texas, Arizona, Mississippi, Arkansas, Arizona, Alabama, Oklahoma and Louisiana. These states also rank up as the top ten states with the highest incarceration rates. It is not a surprise that these state prisons face overcrowding problems, because they continuously are imprisoning non violent offenders. This provides a less secure prison and more of a danger for the correctional officers within the walls of the prison. History has shown us that overcrowding has cost the lives of several including: Lt. Steven Floyd, who was the highest ranking officer at the Vaughn Correctional Facility in Delaware. This tragedy occurred on October 16, 2017, which is fairly recent. Several other officers were taken hostage, beaten but were left alive after the 18-hour standoff with the police. Following the events, correctional officers at the facility during the time of the crisis were interviewed questioning how this could happen. They replied by saying that the inmates outnumbered them 75 to 1. A prime example of how overcrowding directly affects the lives of the officers and their ability to maintain a prison while being overly outnumbered. Similar events had occurred in 2004, where a therapist was brutally injured, raped and then murdered by inmates that were serving life sentences. These lives could’ve been saved if these facilities were not imprisoning an unnecessary amount of minor criminals. These criminals vary for the reason for being incarcerated, ranging from: petty theft, prostitution, trespassing, disorderly conduct to possession of cannabis, distribution of drugs and vandalism. All crimes that should be ruled upon, but not in a sense that locks these criminals up for extended periods that would require such a large portion of the prisons room. Room that should be taken up by more violent offenders: rapists, murderers, thieves, etc. This would allow less people to monitor for the officers resulting in a more secure prison and alert workers. This would also save billions in taxpayer money, money that can be spent elsewhere such as for schooling which hopefully would keep these people from ever being at risk for a life of crime. Resulting in a more reputable and safe community which would lower the population in prison and would lower crime rate outside of the prison. Currently on average it costs $31,000-$60,000 taxpayer dollars to shelter a prisoner. This number is much higher than the cost of providing rehab which is a much more accepted form of punishment for the addict and saves the community money. This also provides them with the proper help that they would not find by just harboring their addiction until they make it out of prison. Education and rehab should be primarily focused on instead of imprisoning people who clearly need assistance quitting addiction or those who are mentally ill. These are the primary source of the population inside of prisons. All of whom if given the proper aid would be able to disprove the currently true face that ?…” of inmates will be convicted again after serving their time.

America is not the only country with this major problem of overcrowding in prisons. At least 115 other countries have to deal with the overpopulating of their prisons, several have taken steps to reduce the severity of the issue. Many have been recommended to follow in similar steps to solve the problem as I have agreed. Major points being to send fewer drug offenders to jail and for much shorter sentences. This would reduce the most common offenders from prisons and would allow much more room for more serious criminals. On average half of the federal prison systems inmates are linked to drug use in some way for their charge. Many researchers have shown several methods of reducing the population and saving taxpayer money through many reforms. Attorney General Eric Holder, has spoken this past August of trying to ensure some of these ideas, of polluting our prisons less with drug users by introducing less drug crimes to the federal court. Researchers have come to the conclusion that if judicial officials issued 20% less drug crimes into the federal court, then 1.29 billion dollars would be saved alone! Several senators have also issued a new bill that will reduce the minimum required sentence for drug users in half. Previously the minimum required sentence ranged between 5-20 years depending upon the type and quantity of the drug they were using. 95% of those tried are found guilty and put behind bars, a number that proves why our prisons are filled behind maximum capacity. This reform would be able to save $2.49 billion over the course of 10 years, by reducing the minimum sentence. Some politicians have even recommended that allowing judges to rule under the minimum sentence by giving them more freedom to rule upon this by making the requirement to be able to rule outside of the minimum, greater. By making it possible for judges to rule outside of protocol by expanding the allowed criminal background of the offender would allow for around $544 million to be saved per year. To expand upon this idea, politicians have pushed for making this bill pass along with allowing the same freedom improvement for judges ruling in nonviolent and minor crime trials. Allowing more nonviolent offenders to serve less than the minimum required sentence which would save $835 million a year. Currently inmates must serve 85% of their sentence before being released according to truth-in-sentencing requirement. Whereas a proposed reform, recommends that we lower this percentage down to 70% and also pushing for more prisoners being able to reduce their sentence through good credit/behavior. Currently federal inmates charged with drug crimes must be enrolled in a drug treatment program in order to get time chopped off their required sentence. Good behavior does not matter as of now in getting out early in federal prisons only enrollment in particular programs do. The acceptance of both proposed reforms would save $1.79 billion for the federal government.

Lastly, taking a full year off of an offenders sentence in return for the enrollment at a rehabilitation center would reduce the population in several prisons and would hopefully set prisoners on the right path. Leading to less inmate recidivism and lower rates of drug crime in and out of prisons. Currently this idea is in effect but not easily able to enacted upon because of overcrowding, many inmates are not able to get the rehabilitation time until their sentence is already less than a year left. If we expanded and advertised for a more popular rehabilitation system then less room would be required for drug offenders. The effects would be noticeable at the time of the law being passed and would continue to reduce the population of drug users exponentially over time, as users find the proper help they need to quit their addiction. Studies have shown that the issue is slowly being fixed and more closely looked at by government officials. Since 2010, prisons in California for example have been doing better at combating the overcrowding of prisoners in their federal prisons, due to the Supreme Court ruling that they must reduce their prison count according to Gaby Galvin, author of the Underfunded, Overcrowded State Prisons Struggle With Reform article. The Supreme Court made the ruling as reports leaked out (Thanks to the Marshall Project) that the prison were 175% over the maximum capacity. Reportedly, the living conditions were so bad that inmates had to sleep in triple bunk beds which led to a suicide rate 80% above the national average and supposedly causing one unneeded death a week. California was able to reduce the prison population by transferring 33,000 non-violent offenders to county jails. And to no surprise major crime issues did not increase by allowing these non-violent offenders to be transferred and face shorter sentences.

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