The Mass Incarceration Crisis in America

This is FREE sample
This text is free, available online and used for guidance and inspiration. Need a 100% unique paper? Order a custom essay.
  • Any subject
  • Within the deadline
  • Without paying in advance
Get custom essay

Introduction: What Even is the Prison Population Crisis?

The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution declared that slaves were freed and that slavery and involuntary servitude are prohibited. However, this agreement was made with one hidden condition that only a small portion of Americans know of: slavery remains technically allowed under the exception of being a punishment for someone that was convicted of a crime. At pretty much any point throughout the United States’ history, you can find some form of systematic racial control and forced labor that was widespread. This horrible cycle of bigotry all originated with the forced slavery of African Americans of over a century, followed by Jim Crow, and currently occupies the country within the state of mass incarceration that disproportionately affects African American and Latino males in poor communities.

The current incarceration state all began with the Republicans’ attempt to appeal to Southern Conservatives after the civil rights legislation of the 1960’s. They declared themself as the political party that would fight the war on crime and drugs, winning the South’s favor and thus the following elections throughout the country (13th). After their presidential candidates overwhelmingly lost against their Republican opponent counterparts, the Democrats deemed it necessary for them follow the Republicans’ lead and trump their strictness on drugs and crime. Politics eventually became a battle where both sides had to continuously one-up the other on being tough on illegal activities, leading to the addition of even stricter sentencing laws into play.

These included habitual offender laws, more commonly known under the term ‘three-strikes’ law. These laws declare that after any three non-serious offences, one’s prison sentence must then be drastically increased, with the possibility of being raised up to the levels of life in prison. Bill Clinton once said that “violent crime and the fear it provokes is crippling our society”, demonstrating the use of scare tactics to sway political voters to their side during the early stages of the mass incarceration state. The average American voter would look at these views and believe them to be a decent and humane stance to take on crime during the supposed crime-ridden times of the country (Ibid). However, this cannot be any further from the truth, as the overall crime rate has been decreasing for the longest time.

Private prisons entered into the market due to the increased demand for spaces to occupy those who are incarcerated. This situation provided them with the opportunity to make a decent profit from how many prisoners were being added yearly. Organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) took a not-before-seen position within politics, with shady financial backing by corporations. This funding allows corporations to have a spot on a council with the sole purpose of drafting laws that benefit said corporations. These legislation drafts are then sent to the Republican legislators who suggest the law templates as their own creation in their realms of legislation. Although some companies like Wal-mart have dropped out of ALEC due to unpopular opinion of being associated to such an organization, many still remain to profit off the situation. These corporations include the high payment rate telephone service company Securus and the low quality food service provider Aramark.

Alongside this, the prisons and jails that house these criminals are often located in or surround by areas that are polluted and have horrible living conditions for inmates. This mass incarceration results in various environmental injustices, including diseases such as lymphoma and valley fever, poor quality of medical care for those in need, unequal treatment of inmates, and recycled buildings to be used as prisons. An example of these inhumane conditions can be found in the Northwest Detention Center of Tacoma, Washington (Bernd). This immigration jail is run by GEO Group, a giant private prison corporation. The prison has been broadcast in the news twice for hunger strikes in protest of the living conditions of the for-profit jail. These conditions included maggot-infested food, abuse from prison guards, inadequate access to medical care, inhumane wages of $1 a day for running the institution’s basic services, and many more.

It is located right next to a coal gasification plant that resulted in toxic sludge-infused soil throughout a span of over thirty years (Ibid). Areas such as these are considered by the government to be so incredibly polluted that residents are restricted from living there. If this is the case, why must Northwest’s prisoners remain living right next to the inhumane waste site? The answer to the question is that city council members used a loophole to get around the law, declaring that it is not considered an essential public facility and should not be built according to the local zoning laws (Ibid). These prisoners are human foremost, and should not be exposed to these horrible living conditions over considering them as less than a person and worries of using safe land.

There are quite a few ethical questions that can be asked about this war on drugs & crime, as well as the mass incarceration crisis that the war caused. Why are private companies allowed to profit off the confinement of others? Why is there an industry built upon the imprisonment of people, and why are they allowed to craft legislature that continues the cycle of mass incarceration? Why is there essentially no media attention investigating the horrible conditions that prisoners are forced to be in?

Who is Being Incarcerated?

There are many problems surrounding the various aspects of the country’s criminal justice system. The United States currently holds the position for the country with the most imprisoned people in the world. Although the United States comprises around 5% of the world population, it has a very disproportionate rate of having 25% of the world’s prisoners (DeFina). The prison population has grown in an exponential rate of over 700% over the last 5 decades, with there being 300,000 people imprisoned in 1972 compared to 2.3 million in 2016 (Ibid).

The demographics going to jail are also quite disproportionate in comparison to the percentages of the population of the United States. For instance, one in every three African American boys and one in every six Latino boys are expected to go to prison in their lifetime, in comparison to the rate of one in every 17 white boys (Mass Incarceration). Such an enormous difference from the This racial imbalance in the incarcerated population is a disturbing reality, for the division between races and classes is deepened by the imprisonment of many. As a result, those less fortunate and disadvantaged become unable to live a normal American life.

The mentally ill and drug addicts comprise a disproportionate percentage of the nation’s prison population. Despite this documented fact, lawmakers have continued to discredit rehabilitation efforts and have passed various legislation that cut funding of these services for prisoners that are finishing their sentences. This is quite an injustice committed by these legislators, as they know for a fact that these people are almost guaranteed to return back to prison if they are left without support and/or rehabilitation efforts. These people are generally of the poorer demographic that cannot fund their own rehab, so not providing them with this support results in an endless cycle of bodies for the prison corporations to profit from.

Consequences of the Situation at Hand

The nation’s trend of shifting away from rehabilitation and education programs for prisoners and simply tacking on longer prison sentences is not helping in bettering society. Although Jody Kent, the public policy coordinator of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, believes that it is necessary for savage criminals to be off American streets, he believes that they need to come out of imprisonment reformed of their heinous ways (Katel). Our justice system currently does not have a solution for that problem. The failed concept that started the trend of mass incarceration in the United States was that if enough people were imprisoned, the drug problem would eventually solve itself. Obviously, this is not the case, for the crime rate has continued on an gradual decrease despite the skyrocketed rate of incarceration.

Reasoning Behind Prison and Justice Reform

In my opinion, a multi-faceted reformation plan targeting the failed aspects of the justice and prison systems should be put into place in order to solve the mass incarceration crisis of the United States. First of all, prison is the go-to sentence in the current rendition of the criminal justice system, which should not be the case for numerous factors. Maintaining prisons and jails is quite costly within the United States’ budget, at a rate of $31,000 a year for each prisoner (Ways). This would be a reasonable cost if there was evidence that imprisonment was effective at the prevention of repeat offenses of petty crimes after the release of prisoners, but this is anything but the case. With a majority of this funding coming out of taxpayer dollars, I believe that our money can be spent in a much more effective manner that would actually prevent acts of crime from occurring.

Probation and community service make up a number of other methods that are more appropriate for most of the low-level crimes committed in the country. Alongside this, they are much more cost effective at convincing people to not commit crimes, with probation costing on average ten times less than prison would (Ibid). If sentencing laws for crimes like drug possession and petty theft were changed to alternatives such as community service whenever applicable, there would be a substantial amount of funding available to provide for better quality rehabilitation services for prisoners.

Yearly minimum and maximum sentences should also be reduced. Obviously someone who commits a serious crime such as robbery should be punished, these acts of violence and incivility should not be allowed. However, there is little empirical evidence that states that long periods of time in prison assists in the rehabilitation of prisoners. In fact, statistically longer sentences tend to increase recidivism more than reducing it in prisoners (Ibid). Given these facts, it is quite reasonable to reduce the time that many inmates would spend imprisoned if it is unnecessary and make sentences more proportionate to the severity of committed offenses.

As demonstrated above, prison is proven to not be the most effective crime prevention option available for the justice system. Alternatives such as community service and probation are overall more fitting when it comes to vandalism and other petty crimes, for they have similar recidivism rates to imprisonment and a much smaller cost to provide.

Implementation of the Solution

The only way this solution can be implemented is that the general population is taught about mass incarceration and they are convinced that it is a serious problem that needs immediate action within the country. We cannot do much about the legislators that are bought out by the major corporations within the prison industry, but if most people believe that prison overpopulation is a problem that must be solved, we can make up for this loss in voting. However, the question at hand is how would we be able to inform everyone about this rather low-key situation when there is no mainstream media willing to provide significant coverage of the problem? The answer is quite simple: a grassroots social media campaign that spreads the word about the corrupt happenings in the justice system and the inhumane treatment of prisoners.

This would first involve crafting something that grabs people’s attention, a video that involves exposing the harsh truths of the United States’ corrupt prison and justice systems. Taking the average user of social media into consideration, the video campaign would have to be both a short clip and attention-catching enough to get the audience interested in the topic and invested in the video. This clip would have to depict imagery of the overcrowded conditions of prisons as well as various statistics on the situation, such as how 97 percent of those imprisoned never see trial and the horrible conditions within and surrounding American prisons. By including these details, people would be surprised in regards to how different their mental image of prisoners is from the harsh truth of the situation and become emotionally invested in the movement due to the pathos and ethos conveyed in the video. At the end of the video, there would be a link to our petition on change.org and the audience would be told to help make a difference and support our movement by giving their signature.

After garnering enough support, we can start convincing some well-known public figures and celebrities to show support for our movement. Just as in food commercials, we can use celebrities to stir up commotion about the mass incarceration crisis and why we must fix this inhumane problem affecting a significant portion of our population. With such important and relevant figures, even more of the population will follow through. Eventually we will have enough backing by the people to petition our plans of reform into a part of various local and state elections, as well as recruit volunteers to call their local legislators and let them know that this is a serious issue that the public majority wants to get fixed.

Potential Drawbacks and Why They are not Serious

The potential drawback to using social media as the catalyst to this grassroots movement is that its flames could simply burn out and die prior to catching fire in the United States. There are a few ways that this hypothetical could happen: the video could not be as impactful as planned, or it catches the public eye but they lose interest too quickly. However, I believe that this is not much of an issue for the movement since most people have some sense of humanity and would recognize how unjust the system is. Even if people choose to not help advocate for the reform of our prisons and the justice system, it is likely that they would choose to share our advocacy campaign on their forms of social media. People in general love to share posts they find interesting on social media, and are even more likely to follow through with it if they see horrible circumstances such as how people are being fed maggot-infested food and rusted water. By trying to get people involved on an emotional level, there will be at least some people that watch the entire video and help our movement flourish.

Concluding Thoughts

The mass incarceration crisis in the United States is a serious issue that does not have enough media coverage nor the public knowledge necessary to have any significant change. With our movement, we can change both of these factors for the better and get the majority of the population emotionally invested and involved in the issue and wanting things to change. If we leave this problem to the current legislators in office and do not inform the public about the corruptness of the justice system and prisons, this problem will continue to get worse for the foreseeable future. With public backing, we can have a relevant impact on prison crisis, stop the corporations from gaining massive profits from mass incarceration, and change the world for the better.

Cite this paper

The Mass Incarceration Crisis in America. (2021, Oct 27). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-mass-incarceration-crisis-in-america/

We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Peter is on the line!

Don't settle for a cookie-cutter essay. Receive a tailored piece that meets your specific needs and requirements.

Check it out