Too Many Prisoners, Too Few Prisons
By: Griffin Arkilic
The “Drug War” started by Nixon (The 37th President of the United States) in June of 1971 was started initially to crush youthful rebellion, then it started the intensive cracking down of drug possession and its use throughout the United States. This as well as the passing of “tough-on-crime” legislation by state and local governments in the late 1980s and early 1990s directly contributed. At first the implications of the intensified imprisonments brought on by the “drug war” and “tough on crime” legislation seemed to help. By the early 1990’s there has been a significant drop in crime all across the country as well as every year since.
Even with the significant drop in crime another problem has become evident, the prisons are becoming crowded. With the almost excessive amount of imprisonments by the law for any type of crime the State and Federal prisons began to have troubles with overcrowding. The prison population is sky rocketing to an insane degree.
The politicians of both the democratic and republican parties are beginning to share similar beliefs on this specific issue, this is how big of a deal it is.
Not only that, but the workforce is struggling! Millions of people are being shoveled into prisons for minor crimes and it takes away from them positively providing for a community. Even when these people are released from prison, they are thought of permanently as “criminals” and are treated as such. When they are discriminated against, it is hard for them to find jobs. They also aren’t given the same opportunities to become skilled workers and so the work force suffers in America.
As we dig deeper, the intensified amount of imprisonments based on petty drug crimes as well as nonviolent offenses seemed to make less sense. We need change, we need a total prison reform.
Fast forward to 2013, about 7.3 million people are either on parole or in prison, America has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
Roughly 1 in every 32 Americans are held by the justice system. All of this because of the war on drugs and specific tough on crime, laws started all those years ago. Nixon believed “America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive” Or so he said. It is believed that Nixon also wanted to squash the hippy “counter culture” that was so prominent during the 60’s. Whatever it was, it led us to the predicament we are in today.
Social scientists have estimated that around 25% of the reduction in crime can be attributed to increases in incarceration. It makes sense, “lock up all the criminals and the crime rate will drop” right? well, sort of. As this overhaul of all the criminals in America continued people began to notice something, the prisons were becoming full, peoples lives were being ruined, their names permanently blackened by a being a former felon.
Not only are the prison systems taking up a more than an average chunk of the population, they are taking a large part of the workforce. It’s unfortunate because when convicts are sent back into the general public their names are semi permanently soiled. With the implications of more advanced technology, significantly larger amounts of policemen, and a growing need for the working class, there is no need for those non violent people being in prison. In prison the inmates are given the “opportunity” to earn money, this can be a whopping 0.30 to 0.95 an hour. This is modern day slavery, working for literally pennies a day instead of being outside living lives and being productive in society.
Even when they are returned to the “real world” they are hard pressed to find any type of job. They are marked as a convict and thus “faulty goods” unable to sustain social norms. So, even if these people have served their time, they are still treated as a criminal. Technically, when someone is released from prison, they are “reformed” (whether or not this is true is not being contested in this essay) and should be treated as such (that being a reformed convict i.e. No longer a threat to society). This judging of people is what takes away from a large chunk of possibly skilled workers just because they were convicted of a crime; non violent or not. This can be changed by another California revolution which deals with the “banning of the box” That former felons have to check on work forms.
This could end the discrimination of criminals who have served their time as well as expand the workforce in a positive manner. With this “banning” people with past convictions given opportunities that might not of been available to them if they were referred to as “criminals”. These changes in laws and propositions allows people whose lives might of being ruined by prison a chance to go back into the world and have a positive influence.
Newt Gingrich has consistently been a prominent figure within the prison debate, but as of currently he is beginning to change his views. In the early 1990’s Gingrich was strongly in favor of all types of offenders being put in prison. He is on record saying to the New York Times “so that there are enough beds that every violent crime in America is locked up, and they will serve real time and they will serve their full sentence and they do not get out on good behavior”. Gingrich felt this way until very recently when he views flipped completely; “There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential”. This just goes to show us that even people who were so in favor of the filling up of prisons are now beginning to realize how detrimental the prison systems are becoming to society. The reason that he is changing his mind is because of the 39 billion dollars that is being spent per year on prisons. Gingrich is one of many who is changing their initial views on the current prison systems. At least 11 Republican-leaning states have eased penalties for parole violations since 2006 as to lessen the prison population.
In more recent news pertaining to prison reform the people of California have passed Prop 47, a proposition that deals with reduced penalties for some non violent/serious offenders who were not previously convicted of murder, rape, certain sex offenses or certain gun crimes. With this law passed it has a potential for about 10,000 convicts to have a possibility of a lower sentence.
Jerry Brown, the current Governor of California has started granting pardons to people being released from prison, up to 63 individuals who were convicted of minor drug crimes. Not only does prop 47 deal with the lessening of sentences, but it also eliminates the “3 strikes rule” for repeat offenders. The California prison systems are infamous for being full of non violent criminal offenders (Probably due to the prominent drug culture) so it seems fitting that Jerry Brown encourage this proposition to be passed in California first.
Marc Levin, who has become one of the nation’s leading advocates of conservative criminal-justice reform states his personal view on prison reform. Levin suggests that instead of spending so much money on programs dealing with with prison that you use less on big prisons and instead use that money on other programs. Programs like this could be dealt with rehab as well as drug courts, which would keep these people out of prison. “Levin asks. Rather than spend a fortune keeping low-risk offenders in prison, Levin proposed that the same money could be used for cheaper programs that would still keep violent criminals locked away and the public safe. The “prison money” would be used to lock up just violent criminals instead of all the drug offenders and non violent criminals. Levin wants to redistribute the money as to keep the bad guys locked up and let the less bad guys out as well. And if the state saves a little money (actually a lot) along the way, that would be good too.
The future of prison reform is bright with change. In more recent years’ prison reform has become a very prominent issue in politics as well as a personal issue. As crime rates keep declining it seems less and less like we need to keep these nonviolent offenders in prison among actual criminals. In progressive places like California people are seeing a significant change relating to non violent criminals. In the near future we hope to see a change in the way the prison system works as well as the way people are persecuted.
The only people that should be there are the violent people who endanger the general public. The neighborhood weed dealer doesn’t deserve to be in jail (granted, he or she is doing something illegal) but instead there could be a compromise, maybe a fine of some sort? As drugs like weed becomes legal throughout the country, it seems a little hypocritical to imprison people for selling it. The work community will see some positive development if all states pass a law similar to “ban the box”. Reformed criminals will not be discriminated and will be able to hopefully positively influence their community We hope that in the near future we see a decline in the nonviolent prison community, a jump in the reformed work community, as well as a continuous decline in crime.