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Mass Incarceration

Updated on May 4, 2016

Why It Matters

Mass incarceration is a growing issue in America that greatly affects the minority population, specifically the African American community. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, holding 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated people, despite only having four percent of the world’s population. The way America deals with incarcerated individuals is ineffective, as there is a very high recidivism rate. Additionally, released convicts are ineligible for food stamps, housing, welfare, student loans, etc., which often forces them to homelessness and suicide. The prison system must be reformed because it also unfairly targets minority populations, especially black people, since one in three black men can expect to spend some time in prison (Criminal Justice Fact Sheet). This disproportionate reality is a reflection of a much deeper issue within the U.S. criminal justice system and how it serves as a means for institutional racism and discrimination. Voting Americans can change this system through voting for policies which begin at their local level, as those policies are typically a domino effect which seep into national politics.


What We Can Do

We can model our prison system after other countries, like Nordic ones for example. They utilize different philosophies to solve crime, such as rehabilitation in order to successfully reintegrate incarcerated individuals to society. A great model for the U.S. is Denmark as it has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world, around 27 percent (Keramet, Sexton, and Sumner). What Denmark does differently is that it actually treats its prisoners like people rather than dangerous animals that must be kept caged and behind barbed wire fences. Instead, “prisoners prepare their own meals, wear their own clothes and leave each day” (Keramet, Sexton, and Sumner). This type of system is known as an “open” prison, and it allows incarcerated people a sense of independence and normality that those in U.S. prisons are otherwise deprived of. In the Washington Post article, the authors mention how when a prisoner in Denmark stabbed another prisoner with a knife while preparing a meal, “prison officials responded by anchoring each knife to the wall with a foot-long steel cord” and when the same thing happened with a vegetable peeler, officials did the same thing (Keramet, Sexton, and Sumner). In America, the response would have been to remove knives entirely as everything is zero-tolerance. This ends up being very detrimental as these same dehumanized people are then released back into society and expected to transition to normal life on their own, despite having spent a great deal of time living in conditions so contrary to what is considered normal.

We can also encourage people to vote more at their local level as those policies have a tendency to influence national politics.

Did you learn something new about mass incarceration?

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Works Cited

"Criminal Justice Fact Sheet." Criminal Justice Fact Sheet. NAACP, n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2016. <>.

Reiter, Keramet, Lori Sexton, and Jennifer Sumner. "Denmark Doesn’t Treat Its Prisoners like Prisoners — and It’s Good for Everyone." Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2016. <>.


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    • RJ Schwartz profile image

      Ralph Schwartz 

      2 years ago from Idaho Falls, Idaho

      Your view of a kinder and more open prison system defeats the entire premise of prison. If you want to see change, it would need to be organic change in minority communities with the simple message of stop breaking the law. I'm a proponent of making prison life much harder and an increased use of capital punishment as crime deterrents.


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