Maintaining the Momentum

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The American judicial and justice system contains poor policies. Many people serve their sentence in the prison system without judicial cases. Others have undergone conviction due to petty crimes that require them to serve short periods. However, such individuals remain in prison for a longer period compared to their actual sentence. The American sentencing system remains to offer unfair sentence to inmates. Therefore, the criminal justice should undergo reform to create justice among the inmates. The statistics from the national survey states that the prison population has grown by over 800% compared to the country’s initial population that has only increased by 33% (Mortimer). According to overall statistics, the country’s population figure forms 5% of the world’s population with 25% acting as prisoners. The prison population growth rate has increased within a period of three decades since the year 1989 (Mortimer).

The increasing record comes from the explosion panic on drug addiction towards marijuana, heroin and alcohol that took place in the 1980s. The tripping point occurred when the country experienced a crack cocaine storm. The Congress introduced a compulsory sentencing to the abusers to five-year sentence. Since 1980s the huge composition of the prison population come from the drug abusers and addicts. The sentence contains unreasonable punishments to the inmates. Those who come out of prison end up in worse conditions compared to how they joined the prisons. The industries and the employment sectors fail to employ ex-convicts since they consider them dangerous. The Congress has done nothing for the past two decades to improve the status of ex-convicts in the society. They remain to handle their fate without help from the government.

The states justice department should reduce sentences on drug abuse. Serving more than 25 years for making sales on pain pills to a colleague turns out to be unrealistic. The justice department should reduce the years and change the sentencing policies that give the federal justice powers to pass such sentences. Other sentences that the state should change include the ones charged on fraud artists, tax evaders, and thieves. However, the individuals should be subjected to severe penalties in case they retrogress. The only individuals that should undergo serious charges and penalties should be the violent and dangerous drug traffickers. Such individuals cause chaos and may affect the rights to life of the citizens in the country. The federal reforms should inculcate a program that enables the ex-convicts to re-enter the society and gain full control of their lives.

The state spends more than $59 billion a year on prison services (Mortimer). Good reforms shield the states against having huge expenditures on the inmates. The states should reject the aspect of building new prisons and focus on improving the current status of the available prisons through reform programs. The federal programs should ensure that they focus on training the prisoners on how to improve their livelihood in case they come out of the prisons. Most of the prisons should ensure that they introduce a probation system that prevents most people from going to prison. Probation enables a convict to undergo a positive change in behavior. It also enables the state to save more than a quarter of its prison budget and channel the money to other state projects. The states should also train their prison wardens on how to handle the convicts while serving their sentences.

Source: www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2014/05/09/its-time-for-prison-reform-and-an-end-to-mandatory-minimum-sentences

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Budget Trends Show That the U.S. Values Prisoners Over Children

The American prison system is in dire need of a fundamental transformation. This system built on mass incarceration is costly and ineffective.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, about 25% of the world’s prisoners are incarcerated in America, even though it hosts only 5% of the world’s population. Harsh sentencing practices such as long minimum sentences and harsh penalties for minor drug possession have filled up our prisons to populations that rise above those of Russia and China.

The US spends far more money imprisoning its citizens than educating them. The following gif compares the costs of educating a child vs the costs of housing a prisoner.

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Housing a prisoner costs roughly five times as much as educating a student in California, Washington and Utah. In dozens of other states, the cost of imprisoning someone is far more than double or triple the cost of educating a student.

If state budget trends reflect policy priorities, then the U.S. currently values prisoners over children. A report released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that the growth of state spending on prisons has far outpaced the growth of spending on education in recent years. “After adjusting for inflation, state general fund spending on prison-related expenses increased over 140 percent between 1986 and 2013. During the same period, state spending on K-12 education increased only 69 percent, while higher education saw an increase of less than six percent.”

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In fact, since 2008, spending on education has declined in a majority of states.

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In an interview with the Huffington Post, Michael Mitchell, a co-author of the report and a policy analyst with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, suggested that education spending could actually help lower incarceration rates. “When you look at prisoners, people who get sent to prison and their educational levels are typically much lower than individuals who are not sent to prison,” said Mitchell. “Being a high school dropout dramatically increases your likelihood of being sent to prison.” He added that those dollars spent locking people could’ve been dollars spent to provide pre-k slots or financial aid.

The report suggests that states’ spending practices are ultimately harming their economies, while not making the states especially safer. The authors of the report conclude that if “states were still spending the same amount on corrections as they did in the mid-1980s, adjusted for inflation, they would have about $28 billion more available each year for education and other productive investments.”

The U.S. incarceration system is basically an inversion of its education system. Although the public school system in this country is inherently flawed, children emerge with knowledge and skills that allow them to contribute more effectively to society. On the other hand, the harsh prison system systematically fails to rehabilitate its inmates. Nearly two-thirds of the inmates released every year return to prison. Those that manage to remain outside of it are often worse off than before they were incarcerated, as they face discrimination in housing, employment and political participation.

If more money were spent on sustaining an education system that met the needs of all of its students, maybe so much money wouldn’t be spent on putting people behind bars.

“The types of investments to help people out of poverty and break that school-to-prison pipeline are investments in early education, helping youth stay in school and getting them on college campuses,” said Mitchell.

The Incarcerated Parents Crisis in America

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one out of three American children live without their biological dad in the home. Consequently, there is a “father factor” in nearly all of the societal issues facing America today. We must realize there is a father absence crisis in America that is due to the injustice of drug related sentencing.

Youths in father-absent households still have significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families. Youths who never had a father in the household experienced the highest odds! A 2002 Department of Justice survey of 7,000 inmates revealed that 39% of jail inmates lived in mother-only households. Approximately 46% of jail inmates in 2002 had a previously incarcerated family member. One-fifth experienced a father in prison or jail. What Americans needs to acknowledge is that “our” children are the future; and how we raise them is going to play a key role in the way our society will progress. Children of incarcerated parents are more likely to drop out of school, join in delinquency, and subsequently be incarcerated themselves.

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  • Official U.S. data shows that 63 percent of youth suicides (5 times the average), 70 percent of youths in state-operated institutions (9 times the average) and 85 percent of children with behavioral disorders (20 times the average) are from fatherless homes.
  • Studies on parent-child relationships and child wellbeing show that father love is an important factor in predicting the social, emotional, and cognitive development and functioning of children and young adults.
  • Daughters of single parents without a Father involved are 53% more likely to marry as teenagers, 711% more likely to have children as teenagers, 164% more likely to have a pre-marital birth and 92% more likely to get divorced themselves.

Our legislative system is creating generational problems for our society and the future of our nation. These children who are being raised with a parent incarcerated are not as stable as those who live in a two-parent household. These children need stability and need to have a healthy relationship with their parents, especially those incarcerated.

Knowing this we need to develop an alternative punishment for non-violent drug offenses. Such as reducing sentences for incarcerated people who participate in rehabilitation programs, expanding sealing and expungement criteria for some juvinelle offenses, and providing the possibility of parole for some offenses committed while a juvinelle.

Our legislation needs to be stronger and it should eliminate unfair mandatory minimums altogether. Our legislation should do more to eliminate punitive incarceration for children and opt instead for community-based rehabilitation. Our legislation is barely scratching the surface of what needs to be done, and there is much more to do.

Sources:

http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/publications/inc_incarceratedparents.pdf

http://www.growingupwithoutafather.org/learned.html

Dollars & Sense: Rehabilitation Over Incarceration

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Numbers don’t lie, as the old adage goes. So let’s take a look at some pertinent ones:

  • 5 million people were arrested in 2013 for non-violent drug charges
  • Close to 25% of those incarcerated (in all types of institutions) were non-violent drug offenders
  • U.S. taxpayers spend approximately $17.5 billion a year incarcerating non-violent drug offenders (25% of the $70 billion incarceration bill the U.S. pays annually)

$17.5 billion spent on warehousing non-violent drug offenders- almost all of them drug addicts who would benefit from treatment and rehabilitation. That’s roughly $30-40,000 per inmate per year. With the average sentence length of a nonviolent drug conviction running 6 years, that’s $180,000. A drug addiction left untreated will result in continued drug use and arrests-which is why 63% of nonviolent drug offenders recidivate within 3 years. Recidivism costs the U.S. taxpayer more money re- incarcerating the same individual. The almost complete lack of any drug treatment available to inmates is a large reason for the astronomical recidivism rate.

Rehabilitation programs, which are the only realistic way to help and keep a drug addict from re-offending, cost drastically less than incarceration. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that, “Treatment can cut drug use in half, decrease criminal activity, and reduce arrests”.  Thirty day inpatient rehab programs can cost as little as $2,000, while outpatient programs are even lower cost (as little as $3,000 a year). Placing non-violent drug offenders in an inpatient or outpatient treatment program, combined with probation, is much cheaper to the taxpayer than incarceration. Economically, everyone benefits: less initial cost to the taxpayer, long term the offender is much less likely to re-offend, saving future incarceration costs, and the offender themselves can become a productive job-holding member of society.

Rehabilitating non-violent drug offenders is not just bleeding-heart, save the whales policy.  It makes hard numerical sense.  Completely objectively, would you rather spend $10,000 or $180,000?  I would much rather spend $10,000.  When a non-violent, drug addict receives proper treatment and probation, that individual is much more likely to:

  • stop using drugs and spending thousands on their addiction
  • less likely to reoffend
  • get a job and pay taxes

An untreated drug addict will just continue to reoffend, costing the taxpayer more money indefinitely.

 

Sources: drugabuse.gov, drugwarfacts.org, http://www.cepr.net

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The U.S. prison population has spiked dramatically since 1980. This is largely due to the famous (or infamous, depending on your position) “War On Drugs”.  Reagan and his “Just Say No” campaign ushered in a no-tolerance, punitive and harmful era in American criminal law.

“…casual drug users should be taken out and shot”

-L.A. Police Chief Daryl Gates (1990)

Non-violent drug offenders – largely addicts – fill our prison system.  An entire generation of Americans has been adversely affected by this draconian approach to criminal justice.  It’s not just the incarcerated who are impacted: their families, friends and communities all suffer the economic, physical and emotional ramifications of their absences.  Incarceration for addicts and other low-level non-violent offenders merely perpetuates a system of exclusion, institutionalization and ultimately recidivism.

Students for Sentencing Reform advocates for rational and humanitarian change to the current U.S. criminal justice system:

  • Shorter jail or prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders
  • Community-based programs to treat and rehabilitate drug addicts and non-violent offenders
  • Institute reforms akin to California’s Prop 47 nationally

Sentencing reform and mass incarceration: NOT just a “criminal” issue.

Sentencing Reform: Not Just a Criminal Issue.