Prison Sentences – Loosening The Shackles
U.S. Prison Population
The U.S. prison population is the highest in the world. A quarter of the world’s inmates reside in U.S. prisons, despite being only 5% of the world population. Since the 1980’s the U.S. prison population has increased 8-fold to over 2.4 million people. More than $80 billion of taxpayer money is spent keeping all of these people locked up serving prison sentences. Many of the non-violent prisoners could be out in society contributing to that cost instead of living off of it. Is locking people up for every little infraction and throwing away the key what America is really about?
Alternatives To Prison
Texas lawmakers have initiated a system that sends drug offenders into rehab treatment centers rather than prison. In addition, they also allow well-behaved inmates to earn credits which can be used to gain early release from prison. The Texas prison population has dropped 3% since 2010 which led to the closing of several prisons for the first time in over 160 years. Other states have taken note and have begun to adopt similar programs and sentencing guidelines.
Why So Many Prisoners?
High crime rates in the 70’s and 80’s led lawmakers to pass laws requiring mandatory sentences for drug related offenses. These increased sentence guidelines for drug crimes led overzealous prosecutors to seek out longer prison terms for other crimes as well such as burglary, robbery, and other crimes. The “”Three Strike” rule was adopted in at least 26 states, sending third-time offenders to prison for disproportionately extended periods of time, sometimes for crimes that were minor in nature.
In one case, a man by the name of Leandro Andrade was convicted of stealing several children’s video tapes from two separate Kmart stores. Since it was his “third strike”, he was sentenced to two 25-to-life terms…. Similar to what a murderer would be sentenced to. A life ruined by a law created by those that are above the law. The legal system doesn’t seem to care that they are ruining lives with these harsh sentences for petty crimes. The legal system is a business… And business is booming!
Do Prisons Accomplish What They Set Out To?
It is very arguable as to whether or not the prison system is a success or a failure. While crime rates for violent crimes are down, the incarceration rate has seemingly skyrocketed over the past 25 years or so. The gov’t stands behind it’s reasoning that “the fewer murdererd and rapists you have on the streets, the fewer murders and rapes you are going to have.” On the contrary though, studies have been unable to correlate any relation between the number of people incarcerated and crime levels.
What’s funny is that the system is referred to as the “Corrections System”, and yet they often fail to correct the outlook of the majority of the inmates they house, with nearly 60% of inmates who are released finding themselves back behind bars within a three year period. The corrections system should be doing what their name implies and help the inmates prepare to reintegrate into society as productive citizens. Not just simply house and feed them like animals and then set them out unprepared to succeed and return to society with a positive outlook and future.
What Is Being Done?
Several other states have followed Texas’ lead by implementing drug treatment programs for drug offenders rather than sentence them to prison time. Some states have begun releasing elderly inmates, while others have implemented sentencing to short-term jails rather than issuing long prison sentences for things such as probation violations. The gov’t has been devising what they refer to as the “Smart Sentencing Act” which strives to reduce mandatory minimum sentences. Additionally, the U.S. sentencing commission has approved the early release of up to 46,000 non-violent drug offenders. While this sounds promising, critics say that these reforms do not go far enough to solve the real problems within the system.
Why Doesn’t This Make A Big Impact?
Well, the inmates who are incarcerated for drug-related crimes make up only 17% of the inmate population in the U.S. which means that the U.S. would still be the country with the highest incarceration rate even if every prisoner with a drug-related offense was released.
So what is being done? Officials are pushing for programs to help reform offenders rather than just pushing them out into society where without guidance, they will most likely end up re-offending. A program referred to as “Prison Without Bars” is being lobbied for to help reduce the prison population by giving released inmates the necessary guidance to succeed after their release into society.
The University of California, Los Angeles has devised a proposal to allocate the $2600 that it currently costs to house an inmate in prison, to be used to provide subsidized housing and monitoring system to monitor the released inmates before their official release date. The monitoring would consist of a minimally invasive GPS bracelet tracking system. The released inmates would be encouraged to seek employment, necessary post-release treatment, and to create a positive environment in which they will be set up to thrive instead of fail. If a released inmate does in fact violate any of the strict guidelines of the program, they will undoubtedly be revoked from the program and be sent back to prison.
Programs to help released inmates are necessary to help them reintegrate into society after they complete their prison terms. Having access to such programs would increase their chances of success ten-fold. And that should be the ultimate goal of the “Corrections System”…. To help inmates correct their faults and inabilities and not only pay their debt to society, but also become a part of the society that once shunned them for their wrongs.
Mark Kleinman, UCLA criminologist states that “The program can be dropped if it doesn’t work. But sticking with the current system and accepting it’s disastrous results, is not a reasonable choice.”
Change must take place for change to happen.