US Prison System and The American Government Paper

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US Prison System and The American Government Paper

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The United States and it’s Prison System Stephaughn Hamilton Incarceration in the United States • • • • The United States has the largest prison population in the world, and the highest per-capita incarceration rate. In 2018 in the US, there were 698 people incarcerated per 100,000, this includes the incarceration rate for adults or people tried as adults Prison, parole, and probation operations generate an $81 billion annual cost to U.S. taxpayers, while police and court costs, bail bond fees, and prison phone fees generate another $100 billion in costs that are paid by individuals. Today, nearly seven million people in this country are incarcerated, on probation, or on parole. A Look Into Our Prison Populations Our Prison System Cont. • Equipped with the full picture of how many people are locked up in the United States, where, and why, our nation has a better foundation for the long overdue conversation about criminal justice reform. For example, the data makes it clear that ending the war on drugs will not alone end mass incarceration, though the federal government and some states have taken an important step by reducing the number of people incarcerated for drug offenses. Looking at the “whole pie” also opens up other conversations about where we should focus our energies: • While this pie chart provides a comprehensive snapshot of our correctional system, the graphic does not capture the huge mix in and out of our correctional facilities, nor the far larger universe of people whose lives are affected by the criminal justice system. Every year, over 600,000 people enter prison gates, but people go to jail 10.6 million times each year. Releasing “nonviolent drug offenders” would end mass incarceration • It’s true that police, prosecutors, and judges continue to punish people harshly for nothing more than drug possession. Drug offenses still account for the incarceration of almost half a million people, and nonviolent drug convictions remain a defining feature of the federal prison system. Police still make over 1 million drug possession arrests each year, and many of these arrests do lead to prison sentences. Drug arrests continue to give residents of over-policed communities criminal records, hurting their employment prospects and increasing the likelihood of longer sentences for any future offenses. Private Prisons • • In fact, less than 8% of all incarcerated people are held in private prisons; the vast majority are in publicly-owned prisons and jails. Some states have more people in private prisons than others, of course, and the industry has lobbied to maintain high levels of incarceration, but private prisons are essentially a parasite on the massive publicly-owned system — not the root of it. Nevertheless, a range of private industries and even some public agencies continue to profit from mass incarceration. Many city and county jails rent space to other agencies, including state prison systems, the U.S. Marshals Service, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Private companies are frequently granted contracts to operate prison food and health services (often so bad they result in major lawsuits), and prison and jail telecom and commissary functions have produced multi-billion dollar private industries. By selling services like phone calls, medical care and commissary, prisons and jails are unloading the costs of incarceration onto incarcerated people and their families, trimming their budgets at an shocking social cost. • Given that the companies with the greatest impact on incarcerated people are not private prison operators, but service providers that contract with public facilities, will states respond to public pressure to end contracts that squeeze money from people behind bars? The Government’s Role • • • What is the role of the federal government in ending mass incarceration? The federal prison system is just a small slice of the total pie, but the federal government can certainly use its financial and political power to incentivize and lighten better paths forward. At the same time, how can elected sheriffs, district attorneys, and judges — who all control larger shares of the correctional pie — slow the flow of people into the criminal justice system? it’s important to note how difficult, if not impossible, it would be to achieve any kind of long-term solution to mass incarceration using a legislative fix exclusively imposed at the federal level. But that doesn’t mean that federal policy can’t be significant. There is a certain power to the bully pulpit, and legislation enacted at the federal level could help set the tone for additional reform at the state and county level. The federal government can also allocate funding that could influence criminal-justice policy on the root of carrots and sticks. State laws could be pushed along by federal incentives that encourage change. Achieving legal change is never about just one tactic. Ending mass incarceration requires action across the board. Possible Solutions • Decriminalizing drugs has been suggested, but remains a remote political option. Additional parole and probation can be facilitated with enhanced electronic monitoring, though monitoring is expensive. The End !
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Tags: AMERICAN GOVERNMENT incarceration lawbreakers federal and state government US prison system



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