Target: U.S. Congress
Goal: To bring about reform in the current prison system.
While there is public recognition that the mass incarceration plaguing the United States since the end of the 1970’s is a social problem that needs grappling with, politicians with the power to change the prison system continue to act on misguided beliefs and, covertly, on a platform of incarceration as social control. The United States is the country with the most of its population in prison – 750 people out of every 100,000 are in jail. The only country to come close to this number is Russia who jails 628 people per every 100,000. The United States is also the only country to have jailed 60% of its minority population, the main target being African American males. One of the primary reasons resulting in the disproportionate number of minorities jailed is the “War on Drugs,” which was waged in an era when illegal drug usage was on the decline. The “War on Drugs” continues to heavily impact minority populations despite reports that find rates of illegal drug usage to be similar across races, with a slightly higher rate found amongst the majority population. The United States is currently responsible for imprisoning more African American men than were imprisoned in South Africa during the end of apartheid. Having established these facts, is it surprising to know that 3 out of every 4 African American men in the United States can either expect to be imprisoned, were imprisoned, or are currently on some phase of penal supervision? This doesn’t take into account the number of Hispanic men which, although lower than that of African Americans, is still much higher than those imprisoned in the majority population. The current prison system is flawed, unfair and has proven to be ineffective – instead of increasing public safety, it locks “criminals” into an endless cycle of crime and discrimination.
The current prison system is flawed, discriminatory against minorities, and is costly to keep in place. When discussing the cost of maintaining the current prison system and population, it should be noted that half the number of those incarcerated in state prisons are for nonviolent offenses and that 20% of the population in state prisons are there for minor drug offenses. The federal prison percentages are higher. Despite the number of nonviolent offenses, the sentences given are lengthy. In order to support the 2.2 million Americans behind bars, the country pays $60 billion a year. In 2001, it was reported that $22, 632 was spent per inmate per year. It is safe to assume that the cost per inmate per year is much higher in 2011. The American government spends more money to maintain the prison system than it does on education.
The idea of democracy fails when the government continues to jail more of its population than repressive regimes around the world do. The idea of equality fails when we look at the prison population and note that 60% of minorities in the United States are targeted and, consequently, jailed. The idea of justice fails when those accused do not have the resources to pay legal fees and thus have no other choice but to plead guilty. The United States cannot continue to function if a percentage of the population continues to be imprisoned and if the percentage who are not imprisoned continue to pay the exorbitant costs needed in order to maintain a bloated prison system.
Dear U.S. Congress,
For every 100,000 Americans, 750 are in prison. The rate of people imprisoned surpasses that of countries such as Russia, Germany, Iran, etc. Of the general population, 60% of minorities are jailed. This is largely due to the “War on Drugs,” which continues to target minorities despite studies that show the rate of illegal drug usage to be the same across all races, if not slightly higher in the majority race. The American government is responsible for imprisoning more African American males than were imprisoned in South Africa during the end of apartheid. Aside from being racially discriminatory, the prison system is also ineffective and costly.
Instead of increasing public safety, which is the rationale used when explaining mass incarceration in the United States, prisons only perpetuate a cycle of crime and discrimination. When released, many prisoners find that the stigma of being a “criminal” locks them out of many economic and social opportunities. With few to little opportunities to survive on, these victims are left with no other choice but to go back to jail. Aside from the legal discrimination that occurs, another reason to abolish the prison system would be to redirect the exorbitant amount of money used to maintain the system into positive social institutions.
The reliance on prisons to curb crime is a misguided belief that only serves to segment the minority population and limit the already limited amount of opportunities available for people of color. The prison system also takes funds away from institutions that are in desperate need of monetary aid and reform. Rather than continue to spend over $20,000 a year per inmate, money should be redirected to improving the education system and providing opportunities for youth of all races. I urge you to change the current system to reflect the values of equality, justice, and democracy.
[Your Name Goes Here]