The Problem of Mass Incarceration
Mass incarceration is the massive escalation of the number of persons being sentenced to serve in state and federal prisons. Over the last couple of decades, the prison population in the United States has increased from a few hundred thousand to over two million individuals. Despite the fact that imprisonment is a means of controlling and reducing criminal activities, mass incarceration has also raised many problems. Several factors have been linked to mass incarceration. The purpose of this paper is to assess the issue of mass incarceration and identify primary drivers behind it.
According to Alexander (2), the number of African Americans who are either in parole, jail, or probation is over two million. Besides, the rate of re-arrests made has also increased. This observation, however, contradicts the fact that criminal activities have significantly reduced over time due to improved security systems in the U.S. Snyder, Howard, and Jeanne (3) indicate that there is little or no impact of mass incarceration on the crime rate. Therefore, it would be right to put the claim that the mass incarceration has been fueled by other factors other than crime. Arguments have been placed by both conservatives and liberals in matters concerning mass incarceration. On the one hand, the conformists believe that mass incarceration brings additional costs to the government (Sentencing & Prison Reform, 1). Prisoners require necessities such as food and water. Therefore, when the justice system continues throwing more persons in prisons, it becomes a burden on the government since they have to provide these social amenities to the prisoners. ‘Studies put the price tag of America’s vast prison system at between $63 billion and $75 billion a year’ (Mann, 3). On the other hand, the liberals believe that mass incarceration targets the minority communities (Sentencing & Prison Reform, 1). Despite their varying opinions about mass incarceration, both the liberals and conservatives propose that there are friendly ways of reducing mass incarceration. The policy on reducing prison time for both petty and violent offenders received criticisms from various activists and politicians. However, Edelman (2) cites that, ‘But it will be harder to convince the American people that cutting back on punishments for robbery, assault, and murder won’t put them in danger.’
Factors Contributing to Mass Incarceration
Several factors have been linked to the mass incarceration in the American society. The first factor is the introduction of the life sentencing without parole system for drug peddling and use. This system was introduced by a former New York governor, Rockefeller, in the 1970s. The introduction of the rule came as a result of the increased drug problem that had hit New York and other parts of the country (Mann, 2). Rockefeller believed that to combat the drug menace, there needed to be stern measures that showed no mercy to the perpetrators. The introduction of this sentence marked the beginning of mass incarceration. Mann (2) cites, ‘That was the moment when one of the seeds of the modern prison system was planted.’ First-time offenders in drug-related issues were also put in prison without being given a chance to defend themselves. Many politicians and activists termed this system as inefficient and incapable of fighting the current problems. At one time, prosecutors in New York indicated that the white community was the most affected by the drug menace but many of the defendants in the courtrooms were Hispanics and African Americans from poor backgrounds (Mann, 3). This scenario indicated the inefficiency of the Rockefeller law. The application of this law in some state and federal courts has led to the influx in prisons. The war on drugs has become the main reason for the mass incarceration in the United States.
Racial profiling has also been a major contributor of mass incarceration. A contradicting Drug Act also establishes that the African American community is a target. A provision of the 1986 Act provided that persons found in possession of half a kilogram of powder cocaine would be jailed for five years while an individual in possession of five grams of crack cocaine would face the same sentence (Sentencing & Prison Reform, 1). Crack cocaine is cheaper than the powdered one and is mostly used by the African Americans, and thus, the act was seen as to target this community directly. As a result, many African American individuals have been sentenced thereby contributing to the mass incarceration. The Supreme Court has also made it difficult to present cases of racial profiling. Alexander (3) claims that, ‘The Supreme Court has ruled that no matter how severe the racial disparities are, and overwhelming statistical evidence may be, you must have proof of conscious, intentional bias to present a credible case of discrimination.’
Mass incarceration has continued to be a challenge in the American society. The incarceration has seen an increase of prisoners from a few hundred thousand in the 1970s to over two million. The African American communities, alongside other colored persons, seem to be the most affected by the mass incarceration. The factors that have been attributed to mass imprisonment are the war on drugs, and racial disparities in the U.S. Some of the acts passed by state councils and the Congress also seem to fuel the incarceration such as the 1986 Act concerning powdered and crack cocaine (Sentencing & Prison Reform, 1). As a result of the mass incarceration, the government has suffered a significant blow due to the overwhelming expenditure in the prison system.
Alexander, Michelle. "The New Jim Crow." America's Prisons, edited by Jack Lasky, Greenhaven Press, 2016. Opposing Viewpoints. Opposing Viewpoints in Context.
Edelman, Gilad. "Reforming Sentences for Nonviolent Drug Offenders Won’t Fix MassIncarceration." Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection, Gale, 2017. OpposingViewpoints in Context.
Mann, Brian. "The Prison System Is Broken Because of the War on Drugs." America's Prisons, edited by Jack Lasky, Greenhaven Press, 2016. Opposing Viewpoints. Opposing Viewpoints in Context.
"Sentencing and Prison Reform." Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection, Gale, 2016. Opposing Viewpoints in Context.
Snyder, Howard N., and Jeanne B. Stinchcomb. "High Incarceration Rates Do Not Necessarily Decrease Crime Rates." Criminal Justice, edited by David Haugen and Susan Musser, Greenhaven Press, 2009. Opposing Viewpoints. Opposing 4/11/2017 Opposing Viewpoints in Context Print6/6Viewpoints in Context, Accessed 11 Apr. 2017. Originally published as "Do Higher Incarceration Rates Mean Lower Crime Rates?" Corrections Today, vol. 68, no. 6, Oct. 2006, pp. 9297.
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