The United States holds the highest incarceration rate in the world, with over 2 million currently in America’s prisons, and millions more on parole and probation. The majority are in state prisons, around 60 percent, and roughly 10 percent are held in federal prisons. In 2011, one out of every 34 adults [7 million+] were being supervised by the criminal justice system, at that time there were over 2 million incarcerated, 854,000 on parole, and 4 million on probation.
In 2009, the US held roughly 4.5 percent of the worlds total population, but housed 23 percent of the worlds prisoners. California and Texas hold the first positions for having the most prisoners, both have over 100,000 inmates. Thousands of individuals are serving severe time for non-violent, and often victimless crimes. Timothy Jackson, an inmate from Angola prison in Louisiana, has served over 16 years, and still looking to spend the rest of his life in prison for having stolen a jacket from a department store that was valued at $159.00.
Other individuals have been sentenced to life with no chance of parole for crimes like siphoning gas from a truck, trying to cash a stolen cheque, selling marijuana, and stealing tools from a tool shed. Although legislation varies from between the states, the federal government has increasingly taken a zero-tolerance approach to crime, even victimless crime such as marijuana possession. The infamous three-strike rule has also proved ineffective at reducing recidivism (or repeat offenses). Surprisingly, violent crime rates have declined for the past several years, which may perhaps be due to fact that hundreds of thousands of individuals that were engaged within the system received stricter life sentencing, and they are therefore permanently caged within the criminal justice system, removing their participation as a criminal statistic.
After three decades of steady increase, crime rates have been in steady decline. Aside from stricter sentencing, rates may also be in decline in response to soaring gun ownership rates. Or, perhaps the violent crime rates are in decline because self-report is in decline, or the statistics themselves are not reliably accurate, or laws are not being strictly enforced. The answer no doubt is a myriad of factos which all contribute to the overall effect seen. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI], violent crime rates have declined by roughly 25 percent. Regardless of the decline seen in crime rates though, prison population continues to soar and remain at an all time high, with alarming numbers of juveniles being detained and held in solitary confinement.
Imprisonment is a costly endeavor for society, indeed the States spend well over $45 billion in tax dollars on corrections, it costs an average of $23,876 dollars to imprison someone for a year, according to data from 2005, the total cost varies among the states. While the taxpayer is footing the bill to house “criminals” within the various institutions [strategically separated] within their communities, prisons are immorally profiting off the labor of their inmates.
Tens of thousands of inmates are being “generously” employed, some for as little as 20 cents an hour, within numerous prison systems. Starbucks, Nintendo, Victoria’s Secret, Wal-Mart, and JC Penny are just some of the mega corporations that are invested in, and profiting from, the labor of individuals who have become one more statistic as part of America’s soaring incarceration rates. This system encourages and creates a demand for arrests, and enables the prison industrial complex to feed off of them and continue to increase profits. With such a system in place it is reasonable to assume that incarceration rates may not decline, even if violent crime declines, as long as the prison is established in such a way that it makes a higher profit along with the increase in the rate of their incarceration.
The expectations of our justice system to both punish and rehabilitate, is a conflicting objective which leads to internal conflict and contradiction. The system aims to prevent crime by instilling fear on the offender, but recidivism remains high and states with stricter punishment still see high incarceration rates [e.g Texas]. The “fear” of prison isn’t sufficient to prevent crime, or even to reduce recidivism. Meanwhile rehabilitation, especially utilizing methods which incorporate members from the community, has a lasting effect at deterring individuals from engaging in a life of crime. Programs such as meditation have also shown to drastically help inmates cope with daily anxiety and stress.
One popular form of rehabilitation is a program of meditation for inmates referred to as Transcendental Meditation, taking part in such activities can help inmates to cope with their frustration, anxiety, and anger. Transcendental Meditation can significantly reduce crime, criminal aggression, violence, recidivism, terrorism, and even international conflict, while simultaneously developing higher levels of psychological functioning (Alexander et al., 2003). Victim-offender mediation has also proven beneficial, in some instances mediation will occur between the offender, the victim, and perhaps other family and community members. Every individual gets a chance to address their concerns over the event, how the crime made any impact on their life. This type of rehabilitation effort encourages justice, accountability, restoration, and community involvement. Even allowing the inmates to help train stray dogs seems to a highly therapeutic effect and actually saves money by extending how long te strays can be kept. Instead of locking up the offender as a caged animal, shunning them away from society and making them feel uninvolved with the community, it takes a more positive approach in encouraging the offender to be a part of that community.
A fiscally responsible nation cannot afford such a dysfunctional criminal justice system. Getting “tough” on crime doesn’t prevent crime, nor does it decrease recidivism. This mirrors how violent parenting strategies often don’t produce more able or responsible children. And the fear of prison initially is not sufficient enough to prevent crime either: fear is only effective in motivating criminals to avoid being caught as instead of avoiding the crime. When the individual is ostracized from the community, they forget how to be a part of it, this only adds to their troubles.
When inmates finally get out of prison, many don’t have a place to live or means to get a job or even to print a resume for one. Even for tasks as simple as buying groceries, many of these individuals never learned the basic skills which would enable them to create a monthly budget, or to plan out meals and necessary life costs, so that they could better manage to cover their daily needs without finding themselves short and feeling the need to resort to crime. Many individuals within the system also suffer from some mental impairment or drug addiction, and simply caging these individuals doesn’t solve any underlying problem.
Our current criminal justice system has failed and continues to fail not just the prisoners, but society overall. It conditions the guards to treat others as less than human, it creates further resentment and anger in the hearts of the prisoners, and almost no one comes out alright, let alone rehabilitated, on the other side. This is literally only “working” those investing in private prisons. Isn’t it time we focused on solving problems, on rehabilitation, and not solely on punishment at a high financial to all involved?
- Life without parole for nonviolent criminals: justice or politics? (prisonreformmovement.wordpress.com)
- Why cut our chance to create crime-free futures? (theguardian.com)