When thinking of how America is leading the world the number of incarcerated citizens per capita does not come to mind. America is considered to be the greatest country in the world. It is known for its fight for freedom and its triumph in maintaining it. Because of this many Americans take pride in the country they have been apart of shaping just as they should. However, in recent years problems have arisen that have taken some of its beauty away. One of those is the shocking amount of people who are imprisoned.
There are several causes for the sudden overpopulation in Americas jails but a problem like this is not only one that is embarrassing to our country but is also one that could possibly be eased with a few minor changes to the United States jail system. In order for there to be a positive change incarceration must be brought to light as an issue instead of being ignored and neglected as it has been in the past. Over the past twenty to thirty years the United States incarceration rate has gradually been climbing to its present day rate of 738 incarcerated citizens per 100,000 in the population.
That number is 153% higher than Russia who is 2nd in line with the most imprisoned citizens and a whopping 2000% higher than countries such as Nigeria and Nepal (Hartney 2). The problem with this nations incarceration rate is not due to the amount of crime that goes on, “For some crimes, the US has higher crime rates than other countries, but not at levels that explain the high rates—and costs—of its current use of incarceration” (Hartney 5). The United States is also at fault for having the highest minority incarceration rates having three times as many women imprisoned than any other nation.
The minority problem doesn’t stop at the women but Latinos composed 19% of Americas prison population while African Americans make up 41% (“More”). The other potent issue with this problem is that it is not being considered as one and the rates are continuously growing. Jails are so overcrowded that they are even able to fully serve their purpose of rehabilitation and discipline. A sentence to prison is an act of punishment for a crime but with that should come an opportunity for a positive and lasting change but it is only possible when each inmate is more than a number.
In order to reverse the damage the reasons behind the problem must be identified. One of the biggest reasons for such a spike in the amount of imprisoned persons is the directly proportional rise in the use of drugs. Drugs have always been apparent in our society but they have never played such a role as they do now. In response to the growth in the drug community, political and social leaders like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan began to emphasize the issue and actively support the “War on Drugs” because of the association with drugs and crime (Cummings 417-418).
The issue here is that the prisons began to fill up with non-violent crime offenses particularly from those minority groups. To this day nonviolent crime offenders make up a shockingly high 60% of prisoners. This also brings into question how is the jail time affecting those who are only in for minor offences. The time they are serving could potentially be worsening the matter because treating them as violent criminals could turn their behavior into such (Bloom). The question is what can there be done to reduce the amount of citizens in jails.
The first and easiest way to lower the number of incarcerated citizens in America is to take the preventative step. There are certain initiatives taken and programs that can be put into place that can prevent incarceration by preventing the behavior that results in breaking the law. The majority of the people who are imprisoned come from very harsh backgrounds and have been through hardships in life that they were not in an environment that was nurturing to them or that helped them handle their issues in a healthy way.
By targeting those people and offering support and service to them children can grow up knowing how to live in such a way that they might not have been brought up in (“Solutions” 2). Having mentors and therapists placed in schools in areas that have the highest incarceration rates would encourage the children and young adults to be able to talk about what they are going through and hopefully give them the strength to rise above their circumstances. Although, trying to find funds for initiatives like these is a barrier that is extremely hard to combat, they can prove to affect incarceration prevention positively.
Some of the solutions that could lower America’s incarceration rates are already in use, but could easily be increased in order to keep the prisons less crowded. For non-violent crimes other avenues of punishment can be explored. Even though good behavior release and parole are being used, prisons could begin to implement them, more which would also serve as good incentive for the inmates. House arrest is also a form of imprisonment that would cut down on incarceration rates. A program in Florida experimented with the idea and managed 20,000 criminals over the course of 7 years.
The institution consisted of community service, the continuing of their role in family support, daily logs, and supervision fees (Owens). The drawbacks are that it is experimental and takes much more of an effort than throwing someone behind bars does. Although the use of more house arrests would decrease the amount of money that goes into the jail system as Owens says “After all, it is the criminals who should be paying for their crimes, not the taxpayers who are forced to support them in jail. ” Another form of punishment that would not involve prison would be to stack on the community service.
A drug dealer or fraudulent businessman would not have the time to commit such crimes if they were served with enough hours to keep them busy long enough not to ever want to commit the same crime again. However, sometimes community service can be taken too lightly because the criminal feels as if they are getting off easy or fails to realize that their actions were wrong so the punishment does not make an impact. Just trying to explore other options other than incarceration could bring down the numbers enough to incite a real decline.
The solutions that would be the most effective in bringing down this country’s incarceration rate are the solutions that would be the hardest to overturn and implement. These have to do with the laws that are already in place. Mandatory minimum laws are a key component to the high incarceration rates in the U. S. because it doesn’t matter who you are, a judge cannot have mercy. Removing these laws would positively affect the jail system because a judge and jury could be the one to have the last say.
A mandatory minimum jail sentence for the sail of drugs to a minor is two years, the possession of narcotics or hallucinogens near a school is two years, and the manufacture or sale of heroin, methadone, crack, or cocaine is five years (Adams). These are offenses that are serious and should be dealt with but can be handled with case-by-case ruling as opposed to a standard sentencing. A case-by-case ruling would give the defendant a chance to a fair punishment and also reduce the number of years some people are in jail so that there are less people crowding it.
The problem with removing the mandatory minimums is that a mandatory minimum jail time prevents some people from committing the crime because they know what the consequences are up front. Removing or even reducing mandatory minimum sentencing laws would directly reduce the incarceration rates by giving each individual a sentencing based on their specific crime. Not only is there an issue with the mandatory minimums in the United State’s court system but also with how sentences are given out as a whole.
The United States not only has the most incarcerated citizens but also gives the longest jail sentences. The average prison time for a burglary is five months in Canada, seven months in England, and sixteen months in the United States, which is double the jail time in either Canada or England (Liptak). The reasons for this come back to America’s adopted policy of being appeasing the public’s opinion, which means that, “Prison sentence length was not based on objective analysis but rather legislative impulsiveness and instinct” (Strutin 1346).
Just the experience of prison life is a wake up call no matter how long one spends actually serving time. By reducing the amount of time the United States gives for prison sentences they are not reducing the punishment but rather allowing for more effective use of prisons because the number of people that are in them is reduced. Prison sentence length does not determine what effect it has on the criminal but when there are less prisoners there it is more beneficial for them rehabilitation and lifestyle change because they are able to receive more attention from those offering help.
Reducing incarceration time would only be beneficial for those who have not committed violent crimes so the issue would be finding a way to separate which sentences are fair in their length and which are too long. There would be 17 billion dollars worth of funds available to use in our country if the U. S. reduced the incarceration length for nonviolent crimes by half their length (Bloom). Even though there would be some obstacles trying to solve the problem this way, it would be the most efficient for achieving the goal. By becoming aware and attentive to this problem in this country, changes can tart to be made. The problem is one that America has made for itself that the nation can solve by looking to examples of other countries. The most important aspects to target when trying to fix this problem are being open to other forms of punishment while also modifying the system of incarceration that is currently being used. Lowering the incarceration rate of the United States benefits so many others than just those who commit the crimes. When there are less people crowding the jails it means that there are more people in the world who have a purpose in their daily life.
There are far less tax dollars going to fund people who cannot follow the law that can now be used for a worthy cause. A lower incarceration rate would not only reflect better on America as a country but also highlight that the United States of America can take a major problem and fix it for the better of the people. The number of incarcerated citizens is only growing. Therefore, putting in the hard work to lower that number is only going to play an even bigger role for the betterment of America and all of its citizens, the incarcerated and the free.