The United States has the highest prison population in the entire world, with the second closest country being China, having nearly 500,000 fewer inmates. This statistic alone should be an indicator as to just how inefficient America’s incarceration system is, given the fact that China’s population consists of nearly 1 billion more people than that of the U.S. What’s even more alarming is just how expensive incarceration is, with a recent study finding that these prices have gone over $1 trillion. This stresses the importance of prison reform not only for the betterment of our society, but for the families and communities affected by the incarceration of these individuals.
While this is in no way undermining crime or condoning the act of breaking the law, it’s difficult to deny just how damaging our country’s judicial system has been to the economy. There is a large number of claims as to why people believe America’s incarceration rate has skyrocketed in recent decades, some of which hold a great deal of truth, while others may be slightly stretching.
One of these claims that holds factual evidence is that the “war on drugs” has spun wildly out of control. As President Nixon declared a war on drugs in 1971, federal drug control agencies grew exponentially in size, and the efforts to find scapegoats in a country terrified by drug use found success in those partaking in drugs like marijuana and heroin. Since then, the United States has spent roughly $15 million annually.
Many non-violent drug offenders are given unfair mandatory-minimum sentences that are directly proportionate to those of much more dangerous criminals. This leads to a massive influx of prisoners. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, more than 46% of current inmates are in for drug offenses, with the next closest being weapons charges at just 17%. Mass incarceration has proven to fail time and time again, destroying the lives of those sentenced in addition to their families’.
Once inmates are released, the ideal situation is that they have received the proper tools and education necessary to never commit a crime again. This is rarely the outcome. The National Institute of Justice reported within three years of release, nearly 68% of ex-convicts will be rearrested, likely for the same crime that they were convicted of originally.
Longer sentences are not the answer to stopping and preventing crime. Neither does arresting individuals for misdemeanors. One effort that has shown promise is an increased police force, though this topic has been extremely controversial in recent years, with officers all over the country seemingly abusing their power. However, rather than imposing strict laws on every person that commits minor crimes, better regulating these acts without immediate punishment is the first step in improving the judicial system throughout the country.