The Need for Criminal Justice Reform in America 

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On July 14, 2015 President Obama delivered an impassioned speech in support of criminal justice reform at the NAACP’s 106th national convention. He emphasized how jails and prisons are failing in their main aim — restoration — which means “more crime, more violence, and more damaged homes” (Birchett).His speech highlighted the potential for bipartisan criminal justice reform in congress and the growing support for criminal justice reform. Criminal justice reform in the United States relates to change aimed at repairing perceived faults in the criminal justice system.This includes, but is not limited to, diminishing the United States’ prison population, shortening prison sentences, altering drug sentencing policy, policing reform, reducing overcriminalization, and juvenile justice reform.

Opposition to criminal justice reform typically is stated by conservatives who do not understand faults in of the system. They typically also reject that the system is racially biased, and do not accept that tough on crime policies are a misuse of power. Rather, they believe that the criminal justice system effectively addresses crime by fairly punishing unlawful individuals. Contrary to these beliefs, the support for criminal justice reform continues to gain momentum. The increase in the incarcerated population expose how criminal justice policies, not underlying changes in criminals, are at fault for the rise in criminals. The billions of dollars spent annually demonstrate the economic strain the criminal justice system places on taxpayers. And the high trends of criminals expose how prisons generate more crimes. New developments in increasing violence and crime recidivism, unjust economic spending, and counterproductive crime policies prove that the current punitive system is ineffective at addressing crime in America.

The common belief is that prisons are great for punishing criminals and keeping neighborhoods safer. Furthermore, people believe that prison sentences, especially longer sentences, deter emerging criminals and reduce crime. However, prisons really have the opposite effect. While in prison inmates inherit more powerful crime schemes from each other, and the time spent in jail can desensitize them to crimes and violence. Prisons are more likely to hold of the poor and non-violent offender than actual criminals. Hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens sit in jails not because they have been convicted of a crime but because they cannot afford bail. Additionally, non-violent drug offenders represent this fastest growing population of prisoners. Prisons are designed for violent and harmful individuals, but when the system is misused violence is created rather than contained. More than one-half of all people at national prisons for drug offences have no violent past, and more than one-quarter have no prior criminal history.

Prisons are designed for high level criminals, but when less violent individuals are locked up they become influenced by these top tier inmates. In prison inmates who exhibit cowardice or nonviolent tendencies are subjected to abuse and violence from fellow inmates. This forces individuals to become more violent and adapt to their hostile environment in order to survive. The environment in prisons are often described as “a breeding culture for crime” because individuals are exposed to new methods of violence and crime. Prisons create a space where inmates can boast about what they have done, and hatch new schemes that are inspired by inmates who have committed greater crimes. For instance, an individual who is arrested for robbery may encounter individuals convicted of murder and become drawn to the idea of murder when release. By spending time in enclosed spaces with capital murders they are likely to become desensitized to it and adapt the same mentality and behavior. In simple terms prisons often release individuals more violent and corrupt than when they entered.

Inmates who have commited lower-tired crimes, like a minor drug offence, or individuals who are too poor to pay bail are the most at risk to this phenomenon. They are more likely to adapt to the violent prison culture and be released as more violent than they were prior to entering. In addition to encounters with other inmates, things such as solitary confinement make inmates more violent and disturbed. Convicts are put in isolation units where they have limited communication with other humans for 23 out of 24 hours a day. It is designed for prisoners who are deemed as threats to promote overall safety in prisons. However, solitary confinement does not promote the well-being of the inmates.

When people who have experienced solitary confinement are released they are more likely to commit violent offences than those who were not subjected to it. Many states have acknowledged the inefficient and harmful nature of solitary confinement and have embraced alternatives. However, solitary confinement is still widely used and continues to generate more violence. After being removed from solitary confinement inmates are described as more irritable, hypervigilant, jumpy, timid and chronically nervous. These behaviors predispose them to violent tendencies when they are released to society. The violent environment in addition to the use of solitary confinement demonstrate how prisons can create more crime. This exposes its ineffectiveness at addressing crime due to its ability to foster the behaviors it is set to punish.

Relapse is another one of the most notable flaw of the criminal justice system. It refers to an individual’s relapse into criminal activity. This is caused after former inmates receives sanctions and undergo barriers that prevent them from reintegrating into society due to their past offense. Recidivism is measured by the illegal acts that result in the rearrest, reconviction or move to prison within a three-year period following the prisoner’s release. After completing their sentences ex-convicts usually attempt to find employment after they are released from prison. Unfortunately, many barriers exists that prevent them from finding work, and housing, which affects their ability to generate income. Additionally, these individuals lack access to the resources and spaces necessary to reintegrate into their communities. The result of this are individuals who become desperate enough to gain money through illegal means. Many prisoners have limited training and employment experience, which makes it difficult for them to obtain work after they are released.

Nearly 70% of offenders and ex-offenders have not complete high school (Pfaff). Consequently, these individuals are not desirable by employers or within their former professional networks (if they previously had one). This makes it very difficult for ex-convicts to to gain employment and without employment they often lose access to necessities such as housing and healthcare. Charges of illegal recidivism can account for as much as 50% of charges in some jurisdictions, and this trend has not declined in recent years. 67.8 % of around 400,000 released prisoners in 2005 were arrested within a three year period, and 76.6 % were arrested within five years (Smith). Ex-convicts continue to constitute a high-risk group compared to first time offenders. The high rates of recidivism highlights a significant flaw in the criminal justice system. Rather than having a system in place that rehabilitates individuals and addresses criminal behaviors, there is an alarming amount of incarcerated people that are repeat offenders and returning inmates. The persistence of crime even after going through the criminal justice system reveals how it is ineffective at addressing crime.

Moreover, when an individual goes to prison the family faces a significant loss of income and increase in expenses associated with incineration. This financial strain is especially present in households where the incarcerated family member was responsible for parenting roles. Having a family member in prison increases the likelihood of physical and psychological health issues. The family dynamic is also more vulnerable to collapse due to the stress and resentment that may arise. The trauma from having a family member in prison most affects children and significantly affects their education, health, and social relationships which places them at greater risk of being involved in crimes. People of color are 50% more likely than whites to know an individual who was or currently is incarcerated. Black families are also three times more likely to have a family member who has spent at least 10 years in prison. Additionally, six out of ten African Americans have a direct family member who has been involved in the criminal justice system.

0These statistics reveal how the criminal justice system doesn’t just affect individuals, rather, they disrupt the lives of many families and can trigger a domino affect of future crime. When an individual is incarcerated they set of a chain reaction that places loved ones into financial stress and social conditions that can encourage more criminal behavior. Without current policies that support the families of incarcerated felons crime continues to be generated by the conditions that the criminal justice creates within families.This is especially true for minorities were the numbers are especially high. This chain reaction demonstrates how the criminal justice system can in fact create conditions that encourage crime rather than reduce it.

In the last ten years the government and federal prison expenses have nearly quadrupled. These estimates are believed to understate the true rise because some expenditures are left out and since they involve other government agencies. For example, the cost of the trials necessary to incarcerated individuals is not taken into account. The American criminal justice system is so large that its calculated to be worth 74 billion dollars. This price eclipses the GDP of more than 133 countries (Davis). In response to the rising prices of prisons, many have supported the implementation of private prisons. Supporters of this are confident that this will reduce the prices of prisons and alleviate taxpayers from paying as much.

The belief that the privatisation of prisons has lowered the prices per prisons and saves americans money is not entirely true. Since private prisons frequently refuse to admit inmates with higher needs, they recieve less expensive inmates and artificially inflate cost savings. This demonstrates how efforts to reduce the price of prisons have failed and suggests that the costs of prisons will continue to expand. Higher prison prices mean that states must devote more funds to imprisonment instead of other budget items. The amount spent on prisoners currently surpasses the amount the government spends on public school students. As states delegate more money to prisons public services provided by the state’s government are reduced. Services such as public education and health care tend to be the first to encounter budget cuts.

This is problematic because insufficient access to resources like these are connected to poverty. Impoverished people are consistently more likely to engage in criminal activities and become involved with the criminal justice system. As these individuals become inmates they contribute to the overpopulation of prison which further spikes up the price. Prisons are already overcrowded and many contend that there is not enough room to hold more convicts. This means that plans for the construction of more prisons are anticipated. Unfortunately, the price to build these new facilities, and the price to take care of future inmates including the prices for food, housing, prison personnel and more, will come entirely out of taxpayers pockets.

Additionally, facilities with more security are more costly than regular prisons. Firstly, the construction of buildings such as solitary facilities are more complex. Maximum security prisons are dependent on single cells and increased safety technology. These on average cost two or three times more to build than normal facilities.( ) Also, the prices used for staffing these units are much higher because inmates are required to be escorted by two or more guards at anytime.Due to the increase of demands the costs for staffing theses facilities exceed the price of normal facilities. This exposes how prisons can become significant economic strains and cost american taxpayers more than they already do today.

Furthermore, as individuals enter the criminal justice system they leave their families behind in financial crises. As previously stated having an incarnated family member results in a loss of income and an increase of expenses. Often times this results in families entering situations that require welfare and government assistance. These assistance come in the form of programs that include, but are not limited to, Food Stamps (SNAP) Food Benefits, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

These programs cost the government a lot of money in addition to the money that is demanded from the criminal justice system. This reveals how the criminal justice system is attached to multiple price tags that place an enormous responsibility for taxpayers to pay. Theses cost not only strain the economy but reduce the amount of funding for other public services. By increasing the number of families that are financially dependant and reducing the amount of money available for public services in states, the criminal justice system stimulates conditions ideal for poverty. Poverty is a known contributing factor to crime. This exposes how the expenses of the criminal justice system are not used to serve its purpose. Rather the money invested creates more crime instead of making communities safer.

The government’s response crime has proven to be erratic and uncoordinated. Both state and national governments have engaged in passing laws that mandated extended prison sentences without parole for more crimes. Laws such as the three-strike law, mandating serious punishments for offenders after their third sentences, are the latest example of rigorous sentencing policies. Laws like these emphasize brutal penal policies and mandatory prison sentencing even for low level and nonviolent crimes. The government’s efforts has resulted in the tripling of the amount of jail cells between 1970 and 1990 (Simon). This growth of prisons was produced by changes in policy, not criminal tendencies.

For example, arrest rates during war on drugs period, where government policies introduced laws that highly criminalized drugs, resulted in over 1.5 million arrests per year. Of those incarcerated over 80 percent were for simple possession. Prior to these policies the punishment for drug charges included minor repercussions such as fines and mandatory community service. These punishments were deemed appropriate because they were victimless charges and often first time offenses. However, the change in policies highly criminalized this action and the individuals. This reveals how the change in government laws, not individuals, lead to the increase of criminals. This shows how the criminal justice can use policies to manipulate the perception of criminals and intentionally generate an increase of crime offenses.

By increasing punitive measures for low offense crimes people of color disproportionately get punished by the system. Policies promoting longer sentences for minor offences affect minorities at rates that are unprecedented and unparalleled in America. Although African-Americans and Latinos collectively constitute only 30% of the national population, they are responsible for 58% of the prison population (Western). In spite of the criminalization of minor offenses many white collar crimes have been exempt from punishment. Illegal acts of the upper-class are not as criminalized, even though these offences produce more societal harm than neighborhood crimes committed by the poor. The damages caused by the cost-cutting behaviours of the upper- class produce much more harm than the neighborhood crime committed by minorities. White-collar crimes are often thought to be victimless offences and, thus, do not invoke as much fear as street crime. However, white-collar crimes do in fact make victims such as, employees, and taxpayers.

Additionally, these offenses also cost the taxpayers a larger amount of money than the offenses of the poor. White collar crimes happen nearly as much as other illegal activity. As a matter of fact, white collar crimes are one of the most expensive offenses and are referred to as “the billion dollar illegal business”( ). White collar criminals appear to continue to engage in these illegal practices because there is no set value at the punishments presented. The criminalization of low tiered crimes like drug possession and the blind eye shown to white collar crimes has significantly skewed prison convictions. As a result, minorities continue to be unjustly policed and placed in circumstances that increase their likelihood of being arrested.

Furthermore, minorities are disproportionately represented in the prison population, even when committing the same crime. For instance, while black and whites use marijuana at around that same rate, colored people are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana-related charges (Birchett). This demonstrates the racial bias that exists within the criminal justice system. This calls into question their credibility and explains the skewed demographic of inmates. By exposing how race influences the system it criticizes the ability of the criminal justice system to fairly execute the law for all of the citizens.

Today, there are numerous organisations that propose to reform our current criminal justice system. Last year saw the most passionate criminal justice movement campaign. With higher amounts of Americans involved the criminal justice system, the criminal justice reform movement has become a requirement. To successfully fix this system change must be made. This new and long-overdue national dialogue about criminal justice reform has sparked a lot of hope towards the possibility of change. As the 2020 presidential election approaches Americans across the nation are encouraged to voice their support for reform.

However, in orde for this movement to be more than a dialogue individuals all across the nation need to fight for theses individuals. From protesting to voting there are many ways in which Americans today can support the movement for criminal justice reform. The current system in place, fosters conditions for increased crime, unjustly costs american taxpayers billion of dollars, and supports policies that disproportionately criminalize people of color. Through supporting the movement Americans can reform the criminal justice system in way a that promotes an investment in individuals as opposed to a system that is ineffective at addressing crime.

Cite this paper

The Need for Criminal Justice Reform in America . (2021, Jan 15). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-need-for-criminal-justice-reform-in-america/

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