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The prison population, over the decades, has experienced massive growth classifying the United States as the highest in the world in terms of incarceration rates compared to larger countries like India, Russia, China, and the Philippines (Drew Kann, 2019). Reports show budgets spent on correction facilities to be approximately $80 billion for the nearly 2.3 million incarcerated population – higher than the $68 billion budget allocated to the Department of Education. Since 2016, however, there has been a noticeable decrease in the prisoners with the population of African-American dropping by 17% while the Latinos population remained the same. As expected, incarceration is all about reducing crime rates and protecting citizens and communities, but this has not always been the case and has sometimes led to adverse effects to a majority of the communities in the United States.
Since the late 1960s, The US has experienced massive incarceration, with people of color- Black Americans and Latinos, especially from poor communities accounting for the majority of this population. Black Americans account for 40% of the prison population despite representing a small percentage, around 13% of the US residents (Initiative & Wagner, 2019). Changes in policies and legislation during this period – with African American leaders supporting most of them, were initially executed to protect citizens, especially the minority communities, but instead led to an increase in mass incarceration. There has also been a significant shift in the powers of the prosecutors over the decades, with them having more power and control over outcomes (Garland & Garland, 2019). Prosecutors face little or no resistance from judges, grand juries, and defense attorneys and are less accountable for their actions giving them more strength in deciding how cases go. The multiple processes initially used in American sentencing have been reduced to prosecutors having more power leading to increased pleas resulting in more convictions.
With references to the prison policy initiative, a higher a percentage of prison population is accounted for by state and local jails than in the federal government. Federal prisons are a total of 109, with state and local prisons being 1719 and 3163, respectively (Initiative & Wagner, 2019). Pre-trial detention alone accounts for over 540,000 people yet to be convicted or sentenced. While some can make bail, the majority are poor and have to stay behind bars until their trial, with bail median reaching $10,000. Less focus has also been put on the smaller section of the system, such as immigration detention facilities, youth confinements, and juvenile facilities. Yet, they cumulatively account for a significant percentage of incarcerated people. For instance, youth in custody are approximated to be 63,000, yet most are in there for less severe crimes such as probation violation. In the case of immigration, most held prisoners are as a result of crimes such as illegal entry and re-entry and undocumented immigrant status.
Several myths have come up to explain the mass incarcerations inspired by the moral and emotional responses from the issues facing criminal justice such as the war on drugs, views on sexual and violent offenders, and rights of prison labors. One of the myths states that releasing nonviolent drug offenders would reduce mass incarceration (Initiative & Wagner, 2019). Statistics, however, show that violent and property offenders were far more likely to be locked up than drug offenders, and coming up with reforms for the criminal justice system would be much more productive instead. The second myth is that private prisons are the root cause of mass incarceration, yet they only account for only 8% percent of the total prison population. The third myth is that prisons encourage mass incarceration when they offer labor, especially to private companies, since it’s much cheaper. The fact is that private companies employ less than 1% percent of the prison population. The fourth myth is that community supervision would reduce incarceration, but it has led to more incarcerations instead of minor failures. The fifth myth is that violent and sexual offenders should not be released, but data shows that they are among the least likely to re-offend.
Mass incarceration has no doubt have a huge impact in the nation, especially to the prisoners, their families, and relatives and to their communities (CRUTCHFIELD & WEEKS, 2019). The government faces tremendous challenges struggling to fit in prisoners after serving their sentences, especially since they are required to go back to their communities, which are weak and facing various challenges with drugs and other acts of crime. While in prison, these prisoners get little or no help with their problems, such as in drugs, alcohol, or mental issues; hence, they go back to their communities not having being, and in some cases, they come out worse-off. Another challenge with incarceration is the strict punishments enacted by legislators to prisoners as forms of collateral consequences. According to Crutchfield & Weeks (2019), prisoners are unable to enjoy some of the essential social benefits as a punishment for their crimes. Former inmates lack social benefits such as the right to vote, access to public housing, college loans as well as grants, welfare benefits, right to work, among many other benefits. In turn, they have a hard time securing absolute paths increasing their likelihood of going back to criminal behaviors.
Families of the prisoners are also affected by a substantial amount in terms of finance and time. Intimate relationships such as with their partners, children, and or communities are lost, explained as natural consequences. Mass incarceration also leads to social disruption, especially in communities that experience a significant rate of withdrawal from their population. Integrating new people in communities affected by mass incarceration sometimes leads to increased anonymity hence increasing the chances of crimes being committed. Migrants are, however, excluded as in the new faces, evidence shows that they are less likely to be involved in criminal behavior. Another thing with the criminal justice system is the difficulty of getting out (Drew Kann, 2019). Several studies conducted by the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC), in 2016, indicated that federal offenders were more likely to be rearrested for new crimes or violation of supervision conditions. Despite some progress, the United States still faces racial and economic segregation, which harm the minorities over-represented in the prison population. There has been a decrease in the difference between African- Americans, and whites in prisons over the past few years since 2009.
The negative impact of mass incarceration can mainly be blamed on policies and not on increased crime rates as would be expected. Topics on race and injustice especially to minority communities have also been brought up as major factors driving mass incarceration (CRUTCHFIELD & WEEKS, 2019). Efforts made so far include the Collateral Consequences of Criminal Convictions Act proposed by the National Conference of Commissioners in 2010. The Acts states that at the time of sentencing, defendants must have an awareness of all the collateral consequences that formally accompany felony convictions and how knowledge on how to mitigate them. States such as New York, Vermont, and Mary land have also borrowed some elements Act in their bills with the efforts to minimize the adverse effects of mass incarceration. Communities of color can be said to be the most affected by this mass incarceration, and addressing issues in policies would have a significant positive result on such communities. Addressing racial and economic segregation would also play a vital role in reducing problems faced by minority communities in the nation, such as social integration.
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