When it comes to the prison system in this country, there is no doubt that many would agree that there is quite a big problem. As it goes to show, the prison population in America is growing by exponential numbers each and every day, and there is no signs of it stopping anytime soon. According to the website www.prospect.org, in the year 1992, there were 1.3 million inmates in America, and just one decade later, one million more inmates were added. That means, by the year 2011, there was a prison population in America of 7 million people, which is groundbreaking and disheartening to say the least. So the question remains, why is the prison population in this country growing in such high amounts, and is there anything that we can do to stop it once and for all?
Unfortunately, there are no clear-cut answers to these important questions, and most of the reasons given by experts as to why the prison population is growing at such high amounts are both varied and extremely convoluted. Some experts claim that the reason for the increase in inmates in this country, especially during the past decade, is due to the lax on important laws that should have been enforced even harder, while other experts out there claim that the reason for the increasing prison population in this country is due to the dire and harsh upbringings of many Americans, especially those who happened to grow up in rural and poverty-stricken communities.
Additionally, there are other experts that speak on the war on drugs as being one of the main reasons for the rise in inmates in this country, as well as the fact that we, as a society, are full of violence, crime, and poverty. And sadly, there seems to be no consensus, there is no real concrete evidence or answers as to why the prison population in this country seems to just be growing and growing and growing by the day. But, with that being said, the reality is that there has to be a way to control these rising inmate numbers, or else dire consequences will start to surface even more, such as rising tax rates for the public, broken families of the inmates themselves, poverty-stricken communities due to released inmates not being able to find a job, and much, much more.
Thankfully, there is a silver lining to all of these rising inmate numbers in this country, and that is that there has been a strong decline in crime within the past decade. Statistics have shown that crime rates were at their highest during the mid 1990’s, and have been dropping ever since. And, this decline comes after the rise in crime that was evident for the previous three decades, before the peak ever occurred during the 1990’s. Consequently, there are a few reasons why people think that crime is declining. Some say that it is because of stricter and more policing procedures, as well as less crack use and sales in this country, and even due to lowered lead levels in the environment that use to be much more prevalent. But of course, all of this is pure speculation. No one really knows why crime rates have fallen in the past decade, but whatever the reason is, crime rates have indeed declined, which is good news for society as a whole.
Another important fact, and something that we should not be proud of in this country is that we carry the number one spot for housing inmates, and that is based on the population for the entire world! What this means is that we incarcerate more people in America than any other country does on planet Earth, which is astounding! According to the numbers put forth, in America, we incarcerate 15 times as many people as Japan, 10 times as many people as Switzerland, 7 times as many people as France, 11 times as many people as the Netherlands, and 17 times as many people as Iceland. And, the only country that even comes close to how often we incarcerate people is Russia, but we still beat their incarceration rates to a great degree. We also have a bigger prison population than Rwanda, Belize, and Chile, which each have extremely high incarceration rates for their respective countries. So that means, in this country, we incarcerate more of our citizens than anywhere else in the entire world, which doesn’t bode very well for our reputation.
Furthermore, there is something else to take into consideration when discussing these extremely high prison population numbers in this country. Not all of the states in America are the same when it comes to incarceration rates. This country is extremely varied in numbers, based on exactly where you look. It is shown that the state of Louisiana leads the incarceration rates in America, and seven of the ten states that have the highest incarceration rates are actually located in the South. So, location is a big factor when speaking of incarceration rates in America.
So, aside from looking at each individual state in this country, including what state has more offenders, you might want to ask yourself, what are the most prevalent offenses that many of these offenders did? For instance, what makes the citizens in our country so bad and immoral as to be incarcerated for such long periods of time, and so frequently? And, the answers might surprise you. According to many statistics, drug offenses accounted for 52% of the federal prison population in the year 2010, and this percentage was followed by other crimes at 35% of offenses, and then finally, violent and property crimes at 8% and 5% respectively. What this means is that drugs are the biggest problem in this country, not necessarily the prison population, and how many individuals are incarcerated, but drugs as a general prison offense, that only seems to be growing more than anything else. So, when you think of higher than average prison rates in this country, only 8% of offenders in prison are incarcerated for violent offenses, and 5% are incarcerated for property offenses. Over half of those in prison are there because of drug offenses. Now, just let that sink in for a while.
And, politicians are not innocuous in this situation. While there are some politicians that stay away from the growing prison issue in this country, there are many other politicians, especially as of late, that are discussing the prison population problem in detail, creating effective mandates, and trying to do something to fix it all. According to the Economist website, Barack Obama tried to reduce the number of absurdly long prison sentences in America. His attorney-general, Eric Holder, told prosecutors to avoid seeking the maximum penalties for non-violent drug offenders. And surprisingly enough, this did cause somewhat of a decline in the prison population for a few years. But now things are different. Current president, Donald Trump’s attorney-general, Jeff Sessions, has just changed this previous mandate started by Barack Obama, and overturned it completely. Jeff Sessions is now looking to instill the harshest punishments for all drug offending prisoners, and he even has a new crusade beginning that is intent on getting rid of all drug dealers once and for all. With that being said, this new mandate initiated by attorney-general Jeff Sessions might possibly overturn everything that Barack Obama tried to do, and make everything even worse for the growing prison population in America. But conversely, it could potentially have the opposite effect, and make things surprisingly better. And, the reason for this is because no one really knows how the future will pan out, or how each individual law and mandate will affect matters relating to the prison system in the long run. All that we know is that only time will tell as to how effective this new mandate will be in affecting the prison population in America, and there is no doubt that many people in this country are waiting with bated breath as to what the results will be.
As it goes to show, one reason why mass incarceration is such a big problem in this country is because it breaks up families, as well as many other negative things, such as increasing the poverty rate to a great degree. When an inmate is released from prison, it is very hard for them to get a job, and this is where the rising poverty rates come in. And of course, the high cost of incarcerating individuals is just the icing on the cake. According to statistics, not only do American taxpayers pay an exuberantly high amount of taxes to house prisoners, but this amount is even higher than what is currently allocated for education, and sadly, American taxpayers don’t really have much of a choice in the matter. Some experts insist that instead of locking prisoners up, they should force them to wear GPS-enabled ankle bracelets, which would bring down prison-related costs exponentially. Another option for bringing down prison costs is tagging. Tagging is essentially a prison without walls, and many people think that it would actually be much more effective than prison is for mild offenders, such as drug offenders. The reason for this is that prisoners who are tagged are much less likely to reoffend than prisoners who get released from prison after their sentence has been complete. This is because they are able to immediately reintegrate back into society, which essentially forces them to behave, so to speak.
And, what about rehabilitation? There are many top officials who strongly believe in rehabilitation for low-risk prisoners, which would bring down prison costs to a large degree. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one type of rehabilitation program for low-risk prisoners, which actually reduces recidivism rates by 10-30%. It is perfect for younger offenders, who usually get pressured by their peers to “act out” and commit crimes. And, it saves a lot of money over traditional prison sentences. Sadly, only 5% of prisoners are currently receiving cognitive behavioral therapy, and that is one of the biggest problems with the prison systems today. Not enough is being done to not only save money on prison sentences, but to make society a better place, both for incarcerated individuals as well as for Americans.
There are some experts out there that attribute the decreased prison rates in other countries to their systematic approach to the prison system and prisoners as a whole. The country of Norway, for instance, has incarcerated offenders start an outside job 18 months before they even get released from prison. This is extremely helpful for both reintegrating prisoners into everyday society once they get released, but also, for organizing a way for newly-released prisoners to not increase poverty levels in their respective areas. And, as statistics show, Norway has a lower recidivism rate than America does. According to www.CNN.com, even Newt Gingrich and Van Jones believe that the prison system is failing America. They said, “It would be hard to overstate the scale of this tragedy. For a nation that loves freedom and cherishes our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the situation should be intolerable. It is destroying lives and communities”.
The truth is that more needs to be done in order to make things better for the prison system in the country, and someone needs to step up and make the right decisions in order to stop this problem. Prisoners needs to be rehabilitated, less money needs to be spent on housing prisoners, and different laws need to be put into effect that make drug offenses much less serious. There are many ways to overcome the prison problem that we currently have in this country, but it takes a good amount of organization and effective mandates to be initiated for any real change to take place. Hopefully, politicians and high-level officials will make the necessary changes, before the prison problem becomes even worse, and to the point of no return.