Prison punishes more than just criminals
I come from a very large extended family and have numerous cousins, many of them much older than I. One of my older cousins, whom I did not know particularly well, was sent to prison several years ago when he was caught smuggling drugs across the border of the Unites States and Mexico. This is somewhat of a sore spot in our family and although I was young and did not know him very well I was curious to learn about his experience. Unfortunately, whenever I would bring up the issue my parents and other family members were hesitant to discuss the matter. Eventually I learned a lot of the minor details ...view middle of the document...
The knowledge I have received from such programs is that our prison system is designed to fail. Well, maybe not designed to specifically fail, but they lack the resources and systems needed to rehabilitate inmates and prepare them for society when they are released. Before I had seen these shows and learned more of my cousin’s dilemma I assumed that our prisons were doing their job, because as long as bad guys were behind bars the world was safe. My opinions changed after having learned a bit more on the issue and are subject to change even further as I continue my research.
I started my investigation with some statistics in order to gain some foresight to the issue, what I found was startling. As of 2009, 7,225,800 people were accounted for within the correctional population, which includes probation, parole, jail and prison. That is approximately 1 in every 31 U.S. citizens. Roughly 70 percent of those released are reconvicted of a crime within 3 years of their release, this all according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). All of these numbers, and I could go on with more, are the highest in the world. China, with almost four times the U.S. population size, has around 1.6 million behind bars compared to 2.3 million for the United States. I found these numbers jaw dropping. Why are our conviction rates so high? With this question in mind I decided to take a deeper look into these statistics.
Throughout the years there have been several different reasons why the prison population has continued to rise. The government has made stricter laws on many crimes, including non-violent ones such as drug charges. There have been stricter laws passed that keep prisoners in prison for longer with less chance for parole. Intensified restrictions on parole violations have also lead to an increase in reconviction rates. California, for instance, has implemented the “three-strikes” law, which states that “if someone commits a third felony after committing two prior similar felonies, then the sentence is a mandatory 25 years to life”(CBS). This law has been found to be extremely controversial, wherein a few cases people were sentenced 25-life for such petty crimes as stealing children’s movies from K-Mart. A different law regarding strict punishment is that of the “Rockefeller Drug Law”. This law established “mandatory prison sentences for the unlawful possession and sale of controlled substances keyed to the weight of the drug involved” (PRDI). All of these contribute to an increasing population in American prisons. Another interesting detail I discovered, that makes these conviction rates even harder to understand, is the cost it takes to detain a person in prison.
On average it costs roughly $24,000 a year to detain someone in prison, adding up to an astonishing $50 billion a year for state governments. The American taxpayers pay for most of this. Prisons don’t only punish convicts, but punish average citizens as well, spending billions in their...