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America tops the world in incarceration rates and ratios per population. “As of mid-2006, approximately 2.2 million Americans were incarcerated in local jails, state and federal prisons.” In the 1970s the incarcerated ratio stood at 165 per 100,000, in the 1980s, the proportion increased to 200 per 100,000 (Abramsky 2008). In classical Greek mythology, the Furies are a trinity of goddesses who avenge all crime and deviations in society by terrible sentences such as lunacy, harassment and other implacable punishments that lasted a lifetime. The American Furies: Crime, Punishment and Vengeance in the Age of Mass Imprisonment reveals the escalating rates of incarceration in the United States, the fate of those in the penal system, the discrimination within the justice system against minorities and other implications of soaring prison populations. Although prisons traditionally are deemed as rehabilitative units to correct and deter criminality, these penal institutions are doing the reverse: producing confirmed criminals incompetent to integrate into mainstream society. Prison conditions, prison populations and prison rates display the tragic terror of the public unable to reform felons. The private prison system is a growing industry which is nourished by tax-payers dollars. Petty criminals are incarcerated with the tough and hardened criminals. This situation results in the violence being reproduced in both younger and inexperienced inmates. The deplorable conditions of the prisons are justified. Gross human rights abuses take place within the cells. Prisoners are beaten, fed unhealthy food, subjected to unsanitary rooms and sometimes, confined, and transported to prison quarters away from their home states, away from family support but far from their criminal networks. The imbalance in the races represented in prison only reflects the partiality of the justice system where judges sentence criminals based on their ethnicity or nationality.
Incarceration rates describe the ratio of how many prisoners per population of 100,000 are committed to penitentiary institutions. The United States boasts the highest incarceration rate in the world: 753 per 100,000 people as at 2008. This ratio represents a 240 percent increase since 1980. This ratio means that 3.5% of the U.S. adult population is behind bars. Compared to the U.S, the rest of the world have much lower incarceration rates for example, Russia holds the second place with 629 per 100,000; Rwanda with 593 per 100,000 and Cuba with 531 per 100,000. Compare these numbers with Australia 134, Canada 116, England 153 and Japan 63 (Schmitt 2010).
The United States leads the list in incarceration rates because of the privatized prison system. The federal and state penitentiaries employ the facilities of private owners; therefore making imprisonment a money-making business. In 2008, federal, state, and local prison institutions demanded $75 billion to keep supporting its inmate population. Criminologists observe that if prisoners convicted of non-violent crimes were not incarcerated, prison costs would be reduced to $16.9 billion per year. Another reason for America’s mass imprisonment is the discriminatory conviction of prisoners belonging to certain races, particularly Blacks and Hispanics which together make up about three-quarters of the prison population. The trend of longer prison terms for minor crimes also is a factor contributing to mass imprisonment.
The prison system is a system which systematically disenfranchises inmates, stripping from poor minorities a key right. As a result, a section of the population remains voiceless. The implications here become more political since in inner city constituents the residents cannot cast their vote and decide on government or even run for office. The exploitation in prison also enriches the prison institution owners who take unfair advantage of the labor of inmates. Inmates are usually paid about 23 cents per hour-minimum wage law does not apply and is not enforced in prisons. Prisons are usually engaged working for railroad companies, clothing companies and other manufacturers.
Although the U.S. practices mass imprisonment, quantities of prisoners across race and gender differ widely which evince stark inequalities in the justice system. Among African Americans, the incarceration rate is 3,138 per 100,000, among Hispanics 1,259 per 100,000 and among Whites 481 per 100,000. This staggering information reveals that one cross section of the population receives the full brunt of the law while another obtains lighter sentencing. The disproportionate disparity among minorities in prisons versus the White majority testifies against the one-sided justice system and its proclivity to levy harsher punishments on people of color. As far as gender is concerned, females comprise of 7 percent of the prison population. 29 percent of female inmates are African American women. The incarceration rate of American women is 150 per 100,000. For Hispanic women, 17 percent of the women’s prisons are made up of them with an incarceration rate of 79 per 100,000. On the other hand, White women are 48 percent of the prison population but with an incarceration rate of 50 per 100,000 (Dignity for Schools 2008, Pettit 2004).
Conditions of confinement hinge on and impact, to a large extent, the health and well-being of inmates. The harshness of prison conditions induces the proliferation of disease in the prison camp and death. (Abramsky 2008) also attests to “inedible-looking, low grade” food served in prisons. Limited access to health facilities for prisoners is guilty for inmate sickness. Popular prison violence in which violent prisoners are consigned with non-violent offenders who committed minor crimes also (1) aggravate violence in other prisoners and (2) endanger the life and general well-being of other prisoners. The overcrowded situation in prisons is nothing new. Due to the high incarceration rates which keep rising annually, the prison facilities can almost hold no more occupants. The competition for rooms and other facilities such as toilets, bathrooms and sleeping quarters is keen. Some justify the adverse conditions of prisons because prison is designed to make criminals uncomfortable and acts as a deterrent for recidivists. Others protest against the subhuman treatment which violates the basic human rights of inmates (Drago 2008). This strategic exploitation keeps the class of prisoners continually indebted and insolvent, trapped in a cycle of poverty. At the same times, prisoners cannot benefit from much needed programs such as education, drug rehabilitation and counseling because of increasing government cut-backs.
The composition of prison population is scarcely diverse. The representation of prison dwellers are a select cross section of minority, economically disadvantaged males falling between the 20-40 age categories. Not only that, prison populations hold more foreign-born or immigrant populations that native-born Americans. Some criminologists conclude that the immigrants are responsible for delinquency and as a result, penalties against immigrants tend to be harder with threatened deportation (Moehling 2009). The American justice system has naturally mistrusted immigrants or foreign born nationals visiting crimes with more gravity. The response to the release of this data begets ‘anti-immigrant’ legislation targeted to discourage America’s more flexible policies on immigration and homeland security. Immigrants also have a greater tendency to settle in inner city areas where crime rates are highest.
Attaching long sentences for relatively minor crimes underlie the cause for the population explosion in American prisons. Southern U.S. States since the 1970s and 1980s would apply stiffer punishments for minority criminals. The lengthier detention of criminals in prisons though engenders higher costs to provide housing, food, facilities and programs for miscreants. Also, the recidivist tendencies in criminals continually draw them into the cells they once left. Repeat offenders cultivate no skills to perform as contributing citizens of society. Frequent intercourse with other hardened criminals inures them to adopting worse behaviors, joining crime networks and returning to prison. Other penal policies, such as parole, have indirectly fostered higher prison populations. In the 1980s and 1990s U.S. legislators eliminate possibilities of early parole and undermine programs for education, job-training and drug rehabilitation. Policies have been calculated to remove some incentives that incite good behavior in penitentiaries such as visitation. Because local and state facilitates cannot accommodate a forever growing prison population, migration of prisoners to out-of-state private penitentiaries have come into existence.
The transfer of juvenile delinquents to adult penal institutions bloats incarceration rates. Zero tolerance rules in which juveniles are not granted second-chances also perpetuate the rise of inmates populating the jails. Although juvenile court and juvenile justice systems work to deal specifically with under-aged criminals, the current trend manifests younger and younger felons in adult prisons with an indelible prison records, and educated in the life of crime, molded after their prison colleagues. Adult prisoners are being peopled more and more by juvenile offenders aged 15, 16 and 17 because some states endorse laws that decree that juvenile delinquents who commit certain crimes be tried as adults and therefore, receive adult punishment. The implications of the correctional treatment of minors are devastating since minors become inured to prison culture more quickly and therefore are more susceptible to adopting worse behaviors and become victims themselves of older and more experienced criminals.
Statistics reveal that the children of jailed parents are more disposed to ending up in prison themselves. According to the detailed study of criminologist, H. Warren Durham, “for some adult offenders’ [the hardening] process begins early, perhaps in the pre-adolescent years. Habits, attitudes and behavior forms which are delinquent are not likely to be relinquished easily when the child becomes an adult” (Dunham 295). Hence, those in prison are on the way to ruin because of almost ingrained vice. Owing to practice and exposure to other hardened associates, the delinquent gets caught in a cycle from which it is difficult to break. The descriptions of the inmates have one main commonality-vice.
In sum, the set-up of the penal system blights criminals, confining them to vicious cycles of recidivism through discriminatory practices, biased incarceration not only for petty offenses but also for offenses peculiar to targeted minority populations. The controversies which are brought to the fore are the questions of the inefficacy of institutional punishment and the success of rehabilitation and reform programs within the penal system. High incarceration rates, biased imprisonment for ethnic minorities, poor prison conditions and abuses in prison are perennial problems that continue to riddle the justice system. If education, spiritual and emotional counseling and rehabilitation were more aggressively inculcated into the prison program, levels of recidivism or the repeated return of prisoners to prison would be drastically reduced.
Incarceration although an imperfect method of correction needs to be further improved. According to the Newton’s theory of inertia, every action has an equal and opposite reaction however, this law does not means that crimes go unpunished (with impunity) where leniency prevails and chaos reigns to the detriment of justice and equity. However in order to reduce the excessive rates of imprisonment clemency is advised. Incarceration does not change man’s nature to violate laws nor does it rectify the wrong committed by more bloodshed. Every case is circumstantial and unique therefore one rule cannot apply to all. Some argue that the monstrosity of the crime buttressed by the evidence merits the application of the death sentence. The scales of justice must be always in equilibrium and carefully weighed in favor of justice, and the executor of justice blind to color, creed, and credentials. The Furies’ justice will be executed through the penal system where the convict faces imprisonment so that the law offender can serve a sentence with the possibility of parole. The grounds for incarceration are wide and variable which include murder, drug possession, fraud, prostitution, rape, robbery, coup d’états and genocide. However, a system which is fair, equitable and still human(e) is prerequisite to reforming the reform system.
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