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Category: Social Issues
Autor: anton 05 March 2011
Words: 1694 | Pages: 7
In the past thirty years, the United States has moved into a â€œget tough on crimeâ€ era. This can be seen through many enactments and sentencing policies, that have been created since 1980. While crime rates overall have been going down, we have seen a massive increase in the U.S. prison populations, causing large financial and social burdens. This paper will analyze this increase, and the sentencing initiatives behind it.
Internationally, prison is the term used for the institutions that hold those who have been convicted of a serious offense. In the United States however, the term prison refers to the state and federal institutions where offenders are sent for a year or more, after sentencing. Most people use the terms â€˜jailâ€™ and â€˜prisonâ€™ interchangeably, a jail however is a temporary holding cell where an offender is placed during trial. Below is a brief history of the development of the American penal system.
A. Solitary System
The Quakers first created the penitentiary as a means for offenders to repent their sins and eventually rejoin society. This idea led to the development of the first American prisons around 1790. These early prisons were based on silence and repenting, and in most cases run by religious personnel. This model was called the Solitary system, and quickly spread through Europe (Tonry).
B. Progressive reform era
By 1877, the second wave, known as the Progressive Reform Era, was underway. Prisons in this era were based on rehabilitation through educational efforts. Once inmates were deemed reformed they were released back into society. Although courts preached rehabilitation, little authority was placed over prison personal, and correctional facilities became brutal un-checked institutions. By the 1960â€™s and 1970â€™s, indeterminate sentencing was seen as a failure, and recidivism rates were shown to be high. The human rights movements and the racism that developed in prisons caused many racially surged riots to take place in prisons. The most notable riot was New Yorkâ€™s Attica riot in 1971. Prisons were seen as out of control, and by 1980 prisons in more than 40 states came under federal court control (Tonry).
C. The Return to Punishment
The United States current correctional era is known as the Return to Punishment. Prisons can no longer be seen as correctional institutions. Criminologist Hans Tochs called prisons â€œa human warehouse with a jungle like undergroundâ€ (Samaha). In the 1980â€™s, crime became the main agenda of almost every politician, and the â€œget tough on crimeâ€ era began. Parole release was abolished by 15 states, conditions in prisons were made less comfortable, and treatment programs gave way to increase cost.
III. THE NUMBERS
A. World Comparison
The number prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants of a nation measure prison population. There are many ways of making these measurements. Many statistics separate those in jail from those in prison. For the purposes of this paper we will consider all those being held in jail and prison because they are all a burden to the tax payers. To the side (figure1) you can see the massive increase in the United States incarceration rates since 1980.
People typically try to relate prison populations with crime rates. This has many flaws and drawbacks.
First of all, countries that are politically and socially similar can have large differences in their prison populations; for instance, Canadaâ€™s rate in 2002 was 103 and the United States was 709 (Christie). Russia is a country that is dramatically different than the United States, however they have been our closest competitors in prison population rates; in 2002, their rate was 640. Secondly when studying historical trends in prison rates increases and decreases have been shown to be linked to nationâ€™s political movements, not crime rates (Christie)
From 1925-1972, incarceration rates fluctuated between 90 and 130 per 100,000 residents, which showed a relatively stable rate. Since 1972, however, the rates have increased every year (Renshaw). Patterns of imprisonment can be affected by a nationâ€™s ideologies on punishments. Many European countries believe that crime is influenced by social conditions and inadequate socialization, and punishment is unlikely to affect crime rates. Because of this ideology only 1 to 3 % of prison sentences in Europe are for 2 years or longer, and their
incarceration rate is only 124 (Christie). United States ideology, as seen through their policy makers, is that crime is a product of wrongful moral choices, punishment effects crime rates, sentences should be harsh to have a deterrent effect, and sentences should be lengthy to incapacitate repeat offenders. Because of this ideology in 1991 56 % of state prisoners were serving sentences 10 years or longer (Tonry).
B. Inmate Populations
As of 2003, there are currently 2,085,620 people under correctional supervision in the United States. In 1980 there were 503,586 prisoners (Harrison). These numbers do not count those who are on probation or parole. Prisons are built to hold a certain amount of inmates. This is known as designed capacity. In 2003 23 state and federal prisons reported that they were operating above their designed capacity (Harrison).
There is a large racial gap in our prisons (see figure 2). In 2003, 44% of all inmates were African American compared to 35% white (Harrison). It is estimated that 1 in every 3 African American males is or has been in the prison system. African Americans are less than 15 % of the U.S. population, but nearly 50 % of all Incarcerated offenders (Walker). Many people have the misconception that the United States prison system is reserved for violent offenders. As shown below (figure 3), 53.4% of inmates are drug offenders (Beck).
Types of Offenses back to top
Drug Offenses: 90,635 (53.4 %)
Weapons, Explosives, Arson: 22,628 (13.3 %)
Immigration: 19,065 (11.2 %)
Robbery: 10,067 (5.9 %)
Burglary, Larceny, Property Offenses: 6,870 (4.1 %)
Extortion, Fraud, Bribery: 6,993 (4.1 %)
Homicide, Aggravated Assault, and Kidnapping Offenses: 5,393 (3.2 %)
Miscellaneous: 3,784 (2.2 %)
Sex Offenses: 1,806 (1.1 %)
Banking and Insurance, Counterfeit, Embezzlement: 925 (0.5 %)
Courts or Corrections: 721 (0.4 %)
Continuing Criminal Enterprise: 601 (0.4 %)
National Security: 108 (0.1 %)
* Data calculated for those with offense-specific information available.
Figure 3: Breakdown of offense type committed by incarcerated offenders (Beck).
A. Mandatory Minimum Sentencing
Between 1985 and 1991, Congress enacted over 20 mandatory minimum sentencing laws; almost every state enacted at least one (Beckett). When faced with a crime that falls under these statuettes, all personal information of the offender is omitted and only the crime is looked at. While the original intent was to create longer sentences for violent crimes, these policies have mostly affected drug sentencing. In federal court, 5 grams of crack cocaine, 100 grams of heroin, and 1 gram of LSD get you 5 years in prison (Donziger). Between 1980 and 1999, the number of drug offenders in prisons increased from 40,000 to 453,000, this is an increase of more than 1000% (Beckett)
B. Three Strikes
â€œThree strikes your outâ€ is a popular policy where an offenders second offense receives a harsher sentence, and the third offense gives the offender life in prison. Since 1993, 25 states have enacted the three strikes laws. These laws were also aimed at increasing violent criminalâ€™s sentences. In California, as of 2001 70% of all second strike cases and 60% of all third strike cases were for nonviolent offenders. Right now in California there are 344 inmates serving life sentences for petty theft, in 2026 there will be 30,000 inmates serving life sentences in California if these policies are continued to be applied (Beckett).
C. Truth in sentencing
This statue requires offenders to serve their full sentences instead of possibly being paroled because of good conduct. This popular policy represents the last leg in the shift towards a punishment system. States, in 1994, did not receive extra prison funding if they did not require felony offenders to serve 85% of their sentence (Grimes). Because judges refuse to lower sentence lengths, truth in sentence has increased the average prison sentences for offenders.
The United States has been responsible for the creation and implementation of most organized prison systems, around the world. We began with a harsh system, and then finally moved into a system based on rehabilitation. In the past 30 years, while most of the world has followed these principles of rehabilitation, the U.S. has moved away from them. A new prison system based on punishment has been developed through sentencing practices. We now have a prison population of over 2 million, and the cost to the taxpayers is enormous, every tax-paying citizen spends over 150 dollars a year on our prison system. If these increases in population and cost stay constant, we will not be able to support this system in the future without drastic reform.
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