U.S. Criminal Justice System Overview
Mr. President, I would like to thank you and your front office for taking the time to read about my concerns during such a busy sports season. I know you’ve grown particularly fond of basketball and football games since your presidency. I recently tried to reach out to you in my recent letter, but I have assumed it never arrived. As I have previously stated, I represent the many Americans who would like to discuss with you the current state of our criminal justice system. Specifically, I would like to bring your attention to the population within our prisons, the incarceration rates and the determination of appropriate sentencing.
As a whole the United States is a distinctive outlier in the representation of incarcerated criminals relative to our total population. As a nation, we have the highest incarceration rate in the world. We represent about 5% of the total world population and nearly 25% of the total prison population. We are 7 times more than any other country in the world. But that doesn’t mean we are more violent than the rest of the world, it just means our laws are more strict and the prosecution for our crimes are higher than most countries. According to the, “United States Bureau of Justice Statistic study finding inmates released from state prisons have a five-year recidivism rate of 76.6%, the USSC study calculated comparable federal prisoners released have a 44.7% re-arrest rate after five years. The total population covered by the new study included 25,431 federal prisoners who were released or paroled in 2005 and were citizens, with trackable presentencing reports and criminal history records, who had not been reported dead, escaped or detained, and whose sentence had not been vacated. Male prisoners made up 81.7% of the total, and the racial composition of the study population was white 43.7%, black 33.9%, Hispanic 17.8% and another 4.5%” (Zoukis). Just as our prison population, this is well above the developed world average. So I ask you Mr. President, do you think that the United States has a problem?
An issue I would like to bring to your attention before discussing possible solutions is the determination of reasonable sentencing. I myself believe that too many prisoners are given to harsh of sentences for their actions. If Americans are not more violent than other countries, religions or nationalities, then our prison populations should not show that we are. If we have a much larger prison population, and we still are not as peaceful than the rest of the world, then maybe it is time to change. I also think that it is time to re-establish a fair and equal way of dealing with prosecutions. I think that with my ideas we can make a difference in how our country is run. I think that we first need to reduce the prison population and the incarceration rates, seek a more reasonable punishment for crimes and re-asses some of the punishments for future criminals.
My first idea is to push back the mandatory minimum sentencing, especially for minor drug offences like distributing or carrying substance. These laws have been proven over years of data to be ineffective for stopping the drug problem in this country. The goal has been prevention by fear, with the idea that people will avoid drugs if they know the punishment will be severe. In reality, the amount of people who consume drugs has not gone down. Instead, many Americans have been crippled emotionally, financially, and socially by these laws with no clear benefit. Take Maryland, for example, “Maryland’s medical marijuana industry brought in $96.3 million during its first year of operation” (Marijuana). In the United States, we have used way too many resources on the war on drugs because in my mind it has been a complete failure, and it’s probably never going to stop. So, the best thing to do is it to find a better punishment for those who do disobey the law. This one change will greatly reduce the prison population over time, and may prevent thousands of Americans lives from being ruined for such a minor crime.
In addition to fixing minimum sentences, I believe it would be in everyones best interests to reduce various minor drug and nonviolent offenses to ticketable defenses such as fines. This will reduce the strain on our heavily overburdened civil defense system. Drug convictions cause rescinding of employment, benefits, and housing opportunity that greatly impedes convicted individuals from successfully re-integrating and contributing to society. It is our belief that removing the higher charge will help to cut down on recidivism, as less nonviolent users will go to jail in the first place and will not have such a reduced outlook for future prospects. It can also eliminate them from committing more serious and impactful crimes.
Another, recommendation that I would make regarding the criminal justice system would be to focus on the current inmates. In America, we focus on law and order, along with keeping everything civilized. We also classify criminals as bad people who must be punished. No attention is spent on recognizing that inmates are humans and not animals that don’t belong and should be put away. They are human beings who have had the justice system largely influence how they live their lives. But what happens to many of the inmates is their time behind bars can have an affect on how they will live the rest of their lives. In those months or years they spend behind bars it forces them to make constant mistakes like who they should associate with and who they need to avoid. In prison you have to fight for survival. If we want these people to have a real chance of non-criminal life after prison, we need to prepare them for that. Many countries, such as Norway and Finland, have achieved a greatly reduced recidivism rates by taking a rehabilitative approach to incarceration. This means addressing what it was that caused the inmate to commit crime, and creating incentive not to return to it when they get out.
One way would be to begin to help better the inmates for life after their prison sentences. In many instances, prisoners are not prepared to rejoin the world. They have lost the skills they once had due to their longevity in prison. I think that we can do a better job in training inmates. We can help them re-establish their communication, working and disciplinary skills before they leave.
Again I would like to thank you for your time and hopefully you can respond to this sincere letter.