It would be a difficult task to find anyone that did not agree that those that commit crimes should in some form pay. In the United States along with most countries the penalty for committing crimes generally mean to loss of privileges, stemming from money in the form of fines and or restitution, property for crimes such as tax evasion, the loss of freedom for varying amounts of time and ultimately the loss of life. Depending on which side of the coin you may find yourself. The fact that America’s prisons are overcrowded and in much need of reform is a glaring unpleasant fact that must be dealt with.
Recent efforts have been undertaken by a number of authorities to tackle the issue of overcrowded prisons and early indicators seem to point to positive results, but first let us examine how the prison population swelled to what it is today.
Although America’s population only make up about 5% of the world, the prison population is the highest in the world. The largest contributor to the prison population next only to recidivism, the rate at which former inmates return to prison, is the war on drugs. Stiff penalties that include mandatory minimum sentences for repeat drug offenders result in people being locked up longer. In fact, more than 50% of the inmates being held in federal prisons are there because of a drug offense. The trend unfortunately has been on a steady increase since 1970 in which the number was only 16%. Among the other reasons prisons are so full, immigration is now being counted toward this increasing trend. Immigration-related crimes now account for just over 10% of inmates. The impact on taxes and the local community is enormous especially for the black and Latino community. According to researcher, this is because of the large disparity of black and Latino inmates compared to their white counterparts.
It has been said and agreed upon by many involved in the prison reform efforts, that no one piece of legislation will resolve the issue. However, President Obama recently says he is “encouraged” by those willing to come together to work on a resolution; and he believes that the time to “seize that opportunity” is now.
The next concern becomes how to seize the opportunity. A number of reforms have started with the use of drug courts to offer programs to aid in rehab instead of a prison sentence. A Brooklyn, NY judge proclaimed that, “The goal is not just to be drug free, but to have a meaningful, viable life. And that means education and employment.”
Reducing mandatory sentences has also proven to make a dent in the prison population, including a law signed by President Obama five years ago that removed the gap in sentence length for crack and powder cocaine. It is measures such as these that will ultimately make a huge difference in the number of people convicted and subsequently sent to prison. Apparently, lawmakers need to rethink how to handle technical violations of parole in an effort to curb recidivism for trivial incidents.
In order to make any lasting changes to the prison system, bipartisan support along with increasing aggressive efforts to reduce the prison population is going to be needed. Additionally, in response to altercations between police and black men resulting in either death or serious injury to the suspect, perhaps part of the solution is to return to teaching the young generation how to respect authority, demonstrate integrity, and stop looking to the government to fix every issue that comes up.
Opinion by Jireh Gibson
Nittle, N. K. “Improving Media Coverage of Racial Profiling.” N.P., 7 Dec. 2011. Web. 4 May 2015.