Attention-Getting Statement: There are currently just more than 2.2 million people in prisons and jails in the United States today.
The criminal justice system is expensive and bloated, and it does not product the results that most people are looking for out of this system; it must be fixed through some specific interventions.
Thesis: The criminal justice system should be fixed in the next fifty years by eliminating private prisons, by eliminating some of the elements that lead to mass incarceration, and by fixing some of the implicit bias that leaves jails and prisons seeming like the New Jim Crow or slavery.
Private prisons present a number of problems for society
Private prisons house only a small percentage of prisoners in state and federal prisons in the United States, but they have an oversized impact on American crime policy because of their lobbying efforts.
When private prisons sign agreements with states forcing those states to guarantee that a certain number of prison “beds” will be filled, the state has a perverse incentive to add to the number of things that are illegal, potentially poisoning the water.
Private prisons have been prone to overcrowding and poor conditions.
In states around the country, private prisons run by companies like CCA have been primary offenders in terms of poor prison conditions.
Mass incarceration is an expensive blight on society that leaves the United States unable to stand on its principle that it is the “land of the free.”
With more than 2.2 million people incarcerated in some way, the United States jails more of its citizens than any other country in the world.
Mass incarceration is caused both by the overcriminalization of petty crimes—like marijuana possession—and oversentencing of violent crimes.
Three strikes laws create a situation where individuals can go to prison for life for simple drug possession if they have had drug convictions in the past.
The principle of “sentencing enhancement” leaves to relatively benign crimes being treated like murder by juries that are asked to provide punishments close to life for crimes that might otherwise not produce any prison time at all.
While some might argue that it is right to give long sentences for violent crimes, the United States punishes its citizens for longer on average than any other country.
There are other options; in other countries, like Norway, the maximum sentence for any crime is 21 years
Lower sentences encourage countries to create criminal justice systems designed more toward rehabilitation because they know that individuals will eventually get out; In the US, with so many people imprisoned for a long period of time or for life, there is less of a desire to put into place systems that will help repair individuals who might be broken
Racial bias must be excised from the system so that it is less like the New Jim Crow or the new form of slavery
The criminal justice system has links to slavery because of the disproportionate treatment of black men
The corrections system also makes use of the labor of people in prison, putting them to work in a variety of different ways; this burden falls down disproportionately on black men and women, especially in parts of the South where slavery used to reign
This subject is critical because it touches all Americans, including those with family members in the system
The criminal justice system must see changes over the next fifty years, including a destruction of the legacies of slavery, the end of mass incarceration, and the elimination of private prisons
- Alexander, M. (2012). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. The New Press.
- Clear, T. R. (2009). Imprisoning communities: How mass incarceration makes disadvantaged neighborhoods worse. Oxford University Press.
- Gottschalk, M. (2006). The prison and the gallows: The politics of mass incarceration in America. Cambridge University Press.
- Stevenson, B. (2015). Just mercy: A story of justice and redemption. Spiegel & Grau.
- Wacquant, L. (2002). From slavery to mass incarceration.