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