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PART 1. The United States A Prison Nation: The United States Prison System

Updated on August 8, 2017

A Nation Within A Nation

The United States has more persons incarcerated in its prisons and jails than any other country in the world. More than half of these are incarcerated for non-violent crimes. What can be said of a country that that uses incarceration to control its citizens? There are many opinions as to how we should deal with those determined to break the rules of society. In this part we will discuss these opinions and alternative ways of dealing with many of those (especially those who are convicted of non-violent crimes) inmates, who are overfilling our jails and prisons.

Those who are incarcerated in our jails and prisons are in themselves a nation within a nation. One in every 138 American citizens are incarcerated. The new sentencing laws have made long sentences mandatory. The price the state receives for having someone incarcerated far exceeds the amount they would receive for putting that person in a rehabilitation program or on house arrest with a sentence that would include community service to pay back the debt they owe to society. Thus the mandatory minimums and three strikes laws in many states. Many of those incarcerated are in for small drug offenses or other small crimes. An incarcerated person serves no purposes other than to further drain the already over burdened system of funds needed to keep violent offenders behind bars. Would not justice not better be served by having them enter rehab and do community service such as roadwork, homeless shelters, or such?

The Police Chiefs Association says " convicted non-violent offenders should serve time in a low security facility funded by the government, to free up space for the violent offenders. However, no single law or policy is responsible for lower rates of crime. Of the 650,000 persons released from prison each year 70% will return within three years. Groups which advocate community based reform, say "community based services such as halfway houses, drug courts, and mental health-substance abuse treatment centers combined with community supervised services to repay restitution are more effective."

The incarcerated inmates and the persons who are hired to supervise them are a "Nation within a Nation". The lack of funding for programs such as education, social skills, and drug-alcohol treatment, make incarceration almost a sure fire guarantee that the offender will return. This combined with the new laws which prohibit public housing, federal grants for education and food stamps for persons convicted of a drug felony assures that upon leaving prison, an inmate will have no support system upon which to rely, thus returning him to the same lifestyle that put him into the system in the first place.

There are many interventions available that could fill the gap between prison and traditional probation that if a satisfactory agreement could be reached would be much more cost effective to the public than the current system.

Federal and State Systems

The war on drugs in the 1980's resulted in the 1984 Sentencing Reform Act which resulted in longer sentences, abolished parole, and mandatory minimums has also resulted in huge increases in the American prison population. The United States has the highest demand for illicit drugs in the world. The majority of the persons incarcerated are for drug crimes (non-violent). Proponents say the reform keeps the public safe, while the critics say it is costly and ineffective.

In many instances violent offenders are released to make room for those convicted of non-violent drug crimes. Many even the American Bar Association believe that long periods of incarceration should be reserved for the most dangerous offenders. Critics call for alternative solutions and shorter sentences for drug offenders and many states are now trying to repeal the mandatory minimums and determinate sentencing laws. The Department of Justice at all levels seeks to punish drug crimes at all levels from high end traffickers to low-level street vendors, to users. To many the laws in place have failed to prevent crimes or promote safer neighborhoods and will continue to fail without proper safeguards in place to assure a solis support system.for offenders.

Punishment and rehabilitation

We are also the only country that incarcerates children as young as 9 years old. If this trend continues we will all soon be living in a nation behind bars. Our prisons are already bursting at the seams.

The main focus of the Justice Department is to build more prisons and fill them up. How about if we use the money for building more prisons to put more programs in place, such as alcohol and drug rehab, educational programs, and helping the inmate learn to be a part of society that he no longer understands. I believe in punishment for wrongs but I also believe in mercy, forgiveness, and rehabilitation.

It would help us all and make the world a better place.


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    • Lifes 2nd Chances profile image

      Colleen Lyon 5 years ago from Kansas City, Missouri

      I too have worked with Mentally Ill parole clients trying to transition back into the community. The road is hard, and I agree with you that there has to be a better way. One of the most counter productive measures I think the courts take is to put parents who are behind on child support in prison. Not only does it not help the child, it puts the parent further behind. I would suggest work programs, where they are housed, and work mandatory jobs to pay for their keep and their back child support owed.

      Mental illness and addiction is out of control in prison populations, and unless we address it as a society in a productive way, it isn't going to change. However, that being said, I also believe in the power of choice, and the power to change yourself. If we really want to make a difference in recidivism, I believe we need to start there. Good hub, I enjoyed reading it.

    • pmccray profile image

      pmccray 7 years ago from Utah

      Sorry I still say we're too soft on criminals. Most live better in prison than they did on the street. Honestly do they really need tv's in their cells? Yes I do agree that those imprisoned for lesser offenses such as drugs need different treatment, but discipline also needs application.

    • Freeway Flyer profile image

      Paul Swendson 7 years ago

      Great hub. It seems that the main growth areas in the American economy are the building of jails and weapons. People have a limited conception of the best way to provide national security. Brute force has won out over more just, effective, (and cheap) methods.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 7 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I know you have experience in this matter sence you have

      worked in the system. I believe there are way too many young people in prisons, drug addicts need treatment, not incarceration. Thank you for sharing this information.

      Love and peace