- Politics and Social Issues
US Prisons Hold A Quarter of The World's Incarcerated People
The United States has prided itself since its inception of being the "Land of the Free, and Home of the Brave," but the recent trend in US incarceration rates shows something much, much different.
While the US is home to only about 5% of the world's population, it also holds 25% of the total number of incarcerated people globally. This is currently the highest percentage of people in prison throughout the world, surpassing countries such as Iraq, North Korea, Russia, and many others which many people view as heavily favoring imprisonment for petty offenses.
Since the 1980s, the number of federal prisoners has risen over 800%. As of January 2014, the actual number of prisoners in the US has skyrocketed to over 2.4 million people.
Mandatory Prison Sentencing
Mandatory sentencing has played a huge role in this increase in prisoners. These policies, which ensure that a guilty party receives a set time in prison depending on the nature of the crime, was originally enacted to prevent corruption and leave less room for human error on the part of the sentencing judge.
However, it is obvious that the threat of guaranteed prison time has done little to deter criminals, and has only increased the prison population in this country. This is evidenced by the fact that, there are not less crimes being committed, only more citizens going to jail for their offenses.
Having a minimum sentence attached to a charge could mean that a party, if found guilty, would receive a jail sentence for crimes such as writing a bad check, evading arrest, providing fraudulent information, and countless other offenses.
What do you think of mandatory sentencing?
The amount of people who are currently incarcerated equates to 751 prisoners or for every 100,000 people in the US. The amount changes to 1 out of every 100 people in the US in jail for those over the age of 18.
Legal analysts have pointed out that this dramatic increase could be due to the idea that judges, prosecutors, and politicians all want to appear to be "tough on crime." This means that often, the maximum sentence is given to offenders, and there are usually harsh penalties for even non-violent offenses. This policy of Incarceration over Rehabilitation leaves little room for change, and often when there cases which may require a bit of interpretation, the sentence is harsh and long-term, in accordance with the court's or governments' desire to not appear 'soft' towards criminals of any nature.
The US Drug War
Other analysts have argued that the US's tough anti-drug policies have had a huge negative influence on the incarceration rate. Since the aptly named 'war on drugs' started in the 1970s, America's prison rate has increased 700%.
Most countries within the European Union, as well as throughout Asia and in many other parts of the world have chosen to adopt a more rehabilitative stance on drug use. In the UK, for example, anyone caught with a small amount of an illegal substance may not receive any jail time; rather, at the discretion of the courts, they may be sent to a mandatory rehab program, which will help them manage and overcome their addiction, rather then simply throwing them in a cell. Compare this to the US, where several cities hold policies where a person may receive jail time for years for simply possessing paraphernalia, with no actual illegal substances present.
The Effect on Minorities and the Poor
The war on drugs in particular has contributed to ever-increasing number of minorities in the prison system. While adult black males make up only 13% of the population, they comprise 40% of incarcerated males. Offenses for paraphernalia and non-lethal substances like marijuana often carry jail sentences just for possession. In underfunded societies and in predominantly African-American communities, police reports indicate that the drug culture is often more prevalent then in others. As the US actively attempts to incarcerate anyone with any affiliation to the drug culture, minorities and the poor often suffer the most, and are simply thrown in jail for any kind of drug-related offense.
Treatment vs. Incarceration
Those who are incarcerated for drug offenses often have the worst experiences in prison. If they are struggling with an addiction, there is often no medical or psychological treatment for coping without their substance of choice. These prisoners suffer from withdrawal symptoms, severe depression, and occasionally physical illness. They become accustomed to the prison system's structured style, but once they are released back into society, they are usually left with no ability to cope with the world again. Often, without proper treatment, these poor victims of the system revert back to whatever coping mechanisms they were using before they were convicted. Within time, they usually end up back inside of a prison, for the same offense as before.
Politicians, court officials and many others have argued that these repeat offenders 'deserve' to go back to prison, since they 'did not learn the first time.' However, the science and medical community has collectively attempted to change the perception of addiction in recent years. Studies from both fields have asserted that addiction is a sort of disease, and in order to cure addiction, the best method is through treatment and therapy - NOT simply being thrown in a cell with all manner of criminals. Without proper preparations, prisoners incarcerated for drug offenses often are left with no choice but to go back to their old lifestyle, and risk incarceration again.
There are many facts which may have contributed to the shocking rise in incarceration rates. Yet what remains clear above all else is the fact that something needs to change.
- 1 out of every 100 adults in the US is in prison
- The US has the highest percentage of incarcerated persons in the world.
- Over 2.4 million Americans are in jail - but China, which has 4 times the population of the US, comes in a far-away second has only 1.6 million.
Whatever you believe the underlying cause to be, remember that simply putting someone out of site, and out of mind, does not mean an end to crime in the US.
Write to your local politicians, congressmen, prosecutors and court officials to try to bring about change, and help America return to being the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.
More Info and How YOU Can Help
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