An Analysis of Mass Incarceration, Capstone Project Example
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Within the United States, mass incarceration has grown by exponential numbers. Thus, “at some point lawyers allowed the legal system to view caging a person as more acceptable than other physical and psychological punishments” (Karakatsanis, 2015). It is believed that mass incarceration has been caused by two specific factors. The first factor is public support for “tough on crime policies,” while the second factor is public support for “the war on drugs” (Steiker & Steiker, 2014). The tough crime policies were the result of increasing crime rates all across the nation. As a result, the incarceration rate increased rapidly. This has led to the United States having over one-fourths of the world’s population incarcerated. Furthermore, it is noted that, due to the tough crime policies, many of these offenders are serving long sentences. However, in some cases, these sentences are not deserved.
Policies Leading to Incarceration in the United States
It is noted that the legal system is not supposed to “allow practices to develop or to persist because of who they are happening to, and to ensure that the magnitude of grievous harm is witnessed and weighed regardless of the bodies and minds on whom that harm is visited” (Karakatsanis, 2015). Research shows that mass incarceration has been caused by a variety of policies. One such policy refers to the installation of the laws stating that if offenders have three strikes against them, they will go to jail for life. As a result, with each strike, the offender receives a longer sentence (Steiker & Steiker, 2014). Another policy lending to the mass incarceration problem has been the penchant for prosecutors to try juveniles as adults. This has caused many juveniles to serve long sentences with adults, which can put them in danger for a multitude of issues, such as physical, emotional, or mental abuse. A third policy that has triggered increased mass incarceration has been “the stringent registration and community notification requirements imposed on sex offenders,” which has led to the public belief that these offenders are incorrigible (Steiker & Steiker, 2014). Through these three policies, which have been instrumental in shaping the overall tough crimes policy, the incarceration rate has increased rapidly. Another cause of the increasing incarceration rate has been due to the failure to “take fundamental shared values and help society translate those principles into results through rigorous argument based on evidence and logic” (Karakatsanis, 2015). As a result, there has not been a good argument for incarceration because rehabilitation has not been effectively attempted since the early 1970s.
However, the increasing incarceration rate is affecting how communities are being built for future generations of children. One study shows that “social injustice by mass incarceration generates punitive inequalities that become entrenched in the collective social experience. No one is born a criminal, it is not a biological trait, but often residents in poor, racially marginalized communities are caught in a cycle of inequality that affects their life experiences resulting in criminal behavior” (Martensen, 2012). Since there are a number of prisoners under the jurisdiction of state or federal correctional authorities, it is possible that these neighborhoods are the ones most significantly impacted (Madden, 2015). Cruelly, it is noted that “imprison black people at a rate six times that of South Africa during the height of Apartheid” (Karakatsanis, 2015). Thus, the children within these neighborhoods may feel that it is impossible for them to escape the bad neighborhoods they grew up in. As a result, these children may feel hopeless and that they will always be at the bottom of the ladder (Madden, 2015). The causes for these feelings vary. However, it can be assumed that these children have family members in prison, which can tear families apart. For these families, especially those in which one parent is incarcerated, the child runs the risk of being raised in poverty, influencing their health (Madden, 2015). When the family member returns, he/she will be excluded from voting, as well as possibly have problems obtaining employment, hindering their re-emergence into society. Many of these offenders feel that being out of prison is the same of being in prison (Madden, 2015). As a result, they may re-offend in order to return to prison, which at times, feels normal to these offenders.
Due to the problems related to the current tough crime policies, many policy makers have been forced to reconsider how the United States handles crime and the resultant punishment (Ruiz, 2011). However, it is not clear what societal consequences would exist. For instance, although the crime rate is decreasing, which decreases the number of offenders incarcerated, the population is increasing at rapid rates, especially between 1972 and 2008. In fact, “1970s was the decade in which rehabilitation for criminals was largely abandoned in favor of a more punitive system” (Martensen, 2012). Therefore, it is believed that a solution must be developed that can assist in changing the behavior of the population to decrease crime even further, possibly eliminating the need for more prisons being built altogether (Ruiz, 2011). Thus, the younger generation can be deterred from committing crimes through the elimination of dangerous communities. These communities can be turned around through investments in education for these children. However, it is known that incarceration will still occur and the mission to end it entirely is impossible, yet it is also known that new criminal justice polices are needed (Ruiz, 2011). The most impactful of these policies would be related to rehabilitation, not incarceration.
Mass Incarceration Statistics
For many people around the world, the death penalty has been considered to be a violation of international human rights. Therefore, this belief has caused the incarceration rate in the United States to increase “five-fold in the decades between 1970 and the early 2000s, yielding a total current incarceration (prison and jail) rate of over 700 per 100,000 of population—the highest rate in our own history and in the world” (Steiker & Steiker, 2014). Since 2009, the incarceration rate has fallen significantly (Steiker & Steiker, 2014). However, there have been increasing concerns about the rate of wrongful incarcerations. For example, in 2003, the governor of Illinois granted clemency to the entire death row because there had been seventeen cases of wrongful convictions (Steiker & Steiker, 2014). This has, understandably, led to concerns of wrongful convictions of those offenders in the general population jail system. Significantly, it is found that within a variety of studies that “there is an obvious racial disparity in who is affected by mass incarceration, concluding that legislation is developed particularly to insure incarceration among racial minorities” (Martensen, 2012). As such, there is strong evidence that the most damaging consequences are the unfair incarceration of minorities and the wrongfully convicted.
Most people are aware that, as a nation, a significant part of the national population is defined by race, causing them to be placed into a permanent second-class status. The fault lies on several sources, such as the judges, biased police officers, and prosecutors. In fact, these prosecutors are the ones who ultimately decide what case gets tried in a court of law, tremendously increasing the potentiality for mass incarceration (Alexander, 2011). Furthermore, although many decisions relating incarceration are decided by public vote, ex-offenders lose some of their rights due to being incarcerated. Since ex-offenders are not allowed to vote, these people no longer have a voice to vocalize their opinion regarding these decisions. As a result, more than two million African Americans are incarcerated or otherwise in the criminal justice system. This is due to the unfairness of the new Jim Crow era, allowing these people to cycle in and out of prison (Alexander, 2011). Thus, these people may find it next to impossible to escape the prison system.
Thus, it is known that there are many African Americans incarcerated. Justice is believed to be served by incarcerating many African American kids, having them on parole, or in juvenile detention. In reality, this can be due to racism because the police officers that are making the arrests use the color of their skin in order to consider who is a threat and who is not a threat (Roberts, 2004). In fact, studies suggest that arresting individuals from certain areas may have a long lasting impact on the community as a whole, as well as affect the accused offender. As a result, financial and social strain is placed on families, further isolating them from the community at large (Roberts, 2004). Furthermore, “criminal record has become a crucial factor driving millions of working class adults into the ranks of the marginalized or excluded”(Kilgore, n.d.). In fact, traditionally, African Americans have the greatest times of difficulty and consequences due to mass incarceration, whether deserved or wrongfully convicted (Roberts, 2004). It is important to be aware that “stereotypes are not limited to minority men, disadvantaged women are cast as promiscuous or welfare abusers. Although women are not as dramatically affected by mass incarceration, the rates of imprisonment for women are also increasing” (Martensen, 2012). In these cases, entire families are being torn apart and in some cases, this separation is permanent.
Data shows that the majority of young men are incarcerated not for violent crimes, but for the possession of drugs. Furthermore, when these young men are released from prison, they find that the employment opportunities are 40% less than they were prior to incarceration (Western & Wildeman, 2009). In this situation, social integration transcends from childhood to adulthood, increasing the difficulties that exist in finding employment. Further surveys show that being incarcerated strains relationships and there are inequalities amongst generations, producing a negative effect on the offender and their families (Western & Wildeman, 2009). This is evidenced in another study that stated that the “normalization of imprisonment and its concentration on specific groups has led to the disenfranchisement of entire communities and the collateral consequences affect both inmates and their families” (Martensen, 2012). As such, these communities are suffering from an intense decline that is expected to continue as long as mass incarceration continues.
Incarceration as a Crime Deterrent
Research shows that prison is not to deter crimes. Rather, the goal of incarceration is to punish offenders for their criminal actions (Bayley, 2010). Therefore, by committing the criminal act, the offender faces the penalty of incarceration. In contrast, this does not mean that other people will not commit the same crime. The reality is that there will many offenders that commit the same crime. Through incarceration, it is shown that the criminal action will not be tolerated within society (Bayley, 2010). Crime will not necessarily decrease due to incarceration. However, through using incarceration as punishment, the population is shown that criminal behavior will come with consequences (Bayley, 2010). For instance, another study “support the claim that mass incarceration specifically victimizes young black men, and a growing number find Hispanic men are likewise affected by high rates of incarceration” (Martensen, 2012). As a result, it is clear that these two ethnic groups are the most affected by massive incarceration.
Studies show that serving time does not deter the occurrence of crime in the long run. In fact, offenders are caught, they are encouraged to make personal life changes, which does not necessarily happen (Waldfogel, 2010). As a result, various cities and states become weary of the crime waves that occur, making it harder to determine effective social tools to alleviate these occurrences. As such, social science has a difficult time determining policies and punishment that may be effective at reducing crime rates (Waldfogel, 2010). Thus, it is suggested that crime can and will be deterred for a short period of time. It is still believed that the current crime punishment policies are ineffective and how cities and states can benefit from increasing the number of police officers on the street (Waldfogel, 2010). However, a greater benefit might be the installment of rehabilitation facilities aimed at assisting the offenders in rebuilding their lives.
Effectiveness of Mass Incarceration
It is often wondered if mass incarceration is effective and, if so, how the United States has controlled this effective. It is concluded through one study that if offenders are arrested, they are unable to commit future crimes. At the same time, other offenders are deterred from committing the same crime. In other words, incarceration is designed to discourage other people from committing crimes. However it is seen that the social structure is broadly tied to the penal policies (Donnelly, 2009). As a result, the United States may face different complications in the future due to mass incarceration. These complications could include the end of the oil supply ad global warning. As a result, bigger prisons would be adversely affected. Thus, it is recommended that other correctional facilities are developed in order to ease the influx of offenders. Regardless of this information, mass incarceration is still a tremendous problem within the United States (Donnelly, 2009). Furthermore, mass incarceration is expected to continue to be a problem for the foreseeable future.
Exploitation in Mass Incarceration
It is commonly known that prisoners are not paid much in wages while working during their incarceration. Thus, “unions and labor oriented organizations need to oppose mass incarceration and adopt new strategies to incorporate a broad working class perspective in their approach to the criminal justice system” (Kilgore, n.d.). Therefore, these people are being exploited through the free market of low-skilled workers. For example, the offenders spend time producing products from companies, such as Boeing, Victoria’s Secret, and Starbucks, all the while former employees of these companies are struggling to find work. Unfair competition is created from small businesses because United States public and private firms are notorious for utilizing prison labor to produce products at lower costs, increasing their bottom line (LeBaron, 2008). Furthermore, “organized labor has a long history of opposition to private profiteering from prison labor. As far back as 1890s Kentucky, the Knights of Labor led a guerrilla style raid on a prison stockade, freeing all those incarcerated therein because they were being used to break a mining strike” (Kilgore, n.d.). During the 1970s, capital was reallocated to the United States economy, causing a restructure of the domestic labor market. In fact, large companies took advantage of the high costs of prisoner upkeep, such as room and board, by paying these costs in exchange for free labor (LeBaron, 2008). However, it was also noted that “in situations involving proposed prison closures or early releases, the issue moves beyond emphasis. Here, in many instances, union members’ interests have proven ultimately anti-working class” (Kilgore, n.d.). Therefore, the prison policies does not allow for fair treatment of prisoners.
Costs of Mass Incarceration
It is believed that the rising toll of mass incarceration has increased with measureable costs. However, it is noted that while “lawyers have failed to ensure a proper accounting of the costs of massive human arresting and caging, we have failed to demand a logical and rigorous discussion of its benefits” (Karakatsanis, 2015). Furthermore, the United States has the highest population of imprisoned people, which challenges the limits of democracy and pushes the boundaries of humanity. As a result, “taking away the most basic human liberty should require compelling reasons and should be done only to the limited extent that it actually achieves those objectives” (Karakatsanis, 2015). For instance, African American men have been incarcerated at quicker rates since 1980. Thus, these men have a difficult time escaping the system of incarceration (Western, 2013). The reasons for the high incarceration rate is caused by the three believes of them and us, tough on crime, and personal defect. As a result there has been an origin of mass incarceration. Thus, in 1964, the Republican Party initiated the current tough on crime policies in response to the uprising of civil rights. During this time, racial anxieties increased significantly and have continued to increase throughout the last few decades (Western, 2013). It is also suggested that “decisions have addressed human rights violations arising from the prison system, from overcrowding, to the failure to reduce crime, to the torture of being incarcerated with a terminal illness” (“Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Court Decision and the Future of Prisons in America,” 2014). Furthermore, the issues within the penal system were not addressed because the federal government began a revolution against drug control. Rather, the federal government failed to create rehabilitation facilities and other preventative institutions, preventing the deterrence of crime and creating repeat offenders (Western, 2013). Finally, “though the Eighth Amendment is often narrowly interpreted to prohibit only the most intentional torture, interpreting it to protect dignity would allow us to understand mass incarceration as inherently “cruel and unusual” because of the conditions it fosters” (“Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Court Decision and the Future of Prisons in America,” 2014). As a result, it is concluded that mass incarceration has resulted in numerous consequences for a wide range of people, but no one as much as the African American population.
Mass incarceration is a tremendous problem within the United States. The problem began due to the war on drugs and tough crime policies. Due to these two policies, the United States had an increasing incarceration rate. A third policy that impacted mass incarceration, albeit not as severely, is the three strikes law. Within this legislation, if the offender has committed two crimes and commits a third, the offender is imprisoned for life. Many prosecutors have also tried juveniles as adults, further contributing to overcrowding in the prison system. Due to these policies, many within the general public view these offenders as incorrigible. However, rehabilitation has not been attempted since the early 1970s. Rather, incarceration has been the norm and has not been effective. As a result, many communities and families have been destroyed, which has caused the crime rate to increase even further. Therefore, it can be concluded that mass incarceration is a major problem within the United States. As a result of the tough crimes and war on drugs policies, the incarceration rate has grown exponentially, rehabilitation has become nonexistent, and families, as well as communities, have suffered tremendous losses.
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