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Mass incarceration can be defined as the incarceration or imprisonment of a large number of people. According to the Prison Policy Initiative blog, the current rates of mass incarceration in the U.S are as follows: Local Jails has 721,654 inmates, Federal prisons 216, 362 prisoners and state prisons have 1,362,028 of prisoners. To have a better understanding, those in local jails are awaiting for trial while federal prisoners are in there because of drugs, weapons and immigration offenses, etc.; However, those in state prisons being the number of prisoners alarming are there because of murder, robbery, assault, public order, etc. Hence, those numbers make U.S the country with the highest number of prisoners.
Even though the number of people that we have in actuality in prison has reduced, the statistics still show very disproportionate numbers. So the question to ask will be, are we overusing prison for not too serious offenses? Or is crime increasing among the states? Most of the time when we talk about crime or prison most people think the main reason is drugs; however, statistics from March 2014 mentioned above show the opposite. There are more serious offenses like murder and assaults going on out there, but as drug use/sale is becoming controversial we constantly attribute crime to drugs.
The effects of mass incarceration don’t only affect those behind bars, but also the rest of society outside. It’s not only about the inmate himself but also his family and society in general. Most prisoners face very critical situations when they get out of prison, because they paid for their crime but they will still be labeled as criminals making it almost impossible to reintegrate in society as a non-offender. Most prisoners depending on the crime committed are restricted from having driving licenses, not access to about 60 percent of jobs and education, housing and even prohibited from voting in federal elections. Hence, how as a society are we expecting prisoners to change and stay out of crime? The lack of access to resources put offenders at more risk of committing crime again, they feel incapable of surviving without a decent job, and not even get government financial aid for school and housing.
Most people refer to prisons as the pill that cures most ills because of the incorporation and the reinforcement of new drug laws more people are going to prison. Non-violent crimes associated with drugs are now seen more serious, and therefore handled with more precaution and severity. Consequences? Community starts paying higher taxes because prison budget increases; including health care, food, electricity, etc. in prison becomes more of a problem because the more people get locked up, the more the more prison spends to keep the prisoners in decent conditions.
On the other hand, families are considered to be the most affected by mass incarceration. Assuming that it leads to a lot of single mothers raising little kids by themselves in poor and dangerous neighborhoods, increasing the possibility in those young males to become criminals. Sometimes it’s not by choice, they have to protect and defend themselves from others getting involved in gangs, drug selling, dropping school and just live by the street settings. In the case of the mothers they usually become more afraid to interact with other males in the community as well as unstable for the simple reason that she has to play the role of mother and man of the house; holding up the responsibility of leading the kids towards a better future and assuring to afford all their needs.
Moreover, most services and benefits that non-offenders have access to are been cut down. They cut budget for financial aid, for housing programs like NICHA, EBT food stamps, welfare and others in about 60 percent. On the other hand for those who don’t have access to the mentioned programs the costs are being increased. Is that fair? Not really, because it’s not fair that non-criminals have to be limited to access a good education or living conditions to pay for someone else’s violations of the law. As a solution many specialists in the flied have suggested to lower the time in prison for less serious offenses, so that way we create a kind of balance between mass incarceration and budget.
It’s highly believed that the accessibility for rehabilitation programs for inmates have also impacted the way they reintegrate in our community. Lately our law enforcement system started paying more attention to drug crimes and hence the punishment is more severe. Drug crimes were seen as part of our lives at some point. People got used to be around the drug business that they even forgot the risk and seriousness of the situation, until now. Some cases depending on how serious are treated by parole and probation, but for our community that’s about the same as being in prison, because for a little slip on following the rules people get locked up again. As a heterogeneous society some people happen to believe that some offenders’ behaviors can be fixed through therapy, training etc. But others are certain they will never change. So they blame the law enforcement because they think that police officers are just looking for people to lock them up for fun. That’s when they then mention the option of rehab instead of prison.
Another impact of mass incarceration in community is the race disparity among prisoners. According to Prison Policy Initiative Blacks represent 40% of prisoners, followed by Whites with 39% and Hispanics with 19%. Why are statistics so disproportionate? Well watching the news or reading the newspaper it’s almost clear that Blacks are much more likely to commit serious crimes than Hispanics and whites; however, lately society has increased the believe of racism in CRJ system against people of color. Which doesn’t make any sense, because most of the time enough evidence is found to incriminate them. On the other hand, it’s very possible that economic status along with education and morality play an important role; therefore, they are more likely to break the law in comparison to whites with higher education and economic stability. The media has been selling a bad image about cops arresting blacks or stopping them for no reason. It’s highly believed our community should be aware and better educated about what is really going on and stop labeling CRJ system of discrimination against blacks without getting informed about the reasons behind why crime rates among blacks is so high.
Moreover, white-collar crimes committed by Whites are seen as being more powerful and therefore slide in our CRJ system. Our community is very skeptical about race disparities among prison rates. Many people believe that those who have money and power define crime and therefore its consequences. White people are constantly blamed for those big bank hackers, millions of lawsuits for entrepreneurs business on the low and so on. Hence, they see that law enforcement send a lot of poor people, low social status to prison while the powerful ones mostly whites are kept secret and sometimes not even punished. Most of our Hispanics and Blacks feel that whites run America and therefore their crimes are less important for cops and judges.
Even professionals get judged based on mass incarceration and law enforcement trust. As future CRJ professionals we are constantly criticized because Hispanics/Latinos and Blacks are not known to be successful in the law enforcement field. Yes it’s true that being part of a racial group with high rates of crime and imprisonment it’s challenging but that doesn’t mean it defines who we are and what benefits we can bring to law enforcement future with our knowledge and dedication. Some people say that we are working in this field to deal with the problems of our own people. We know that because of lack of education and understanding of the system it seems challenging to access CRJ system and stand out but because we come from a criminal race and community doesn’t mean we will constantly break the law. Even families disagree with their kids to be part in what they call a slacking system that takes advantage of poor families of our own race.
Nonetheless, when those inmates come back to their neighborhoods and try to form part of the community as a non-offender creates a lot of fear and speculations. People start thinking that they will keep themselves engaged in criminal behaviors and therefore attract other young kids to do the same. Do people commit crime by choice? That’s a pretty much controversial topic because in one end yes people should be able to rationalize about what’s right or wrong and make the right choices; however, the community setting such as poor crappy schools, lacking of resources, careless parents, drug selling like candies in every corner and peer pressure are some of the reasons that might get young males of our community to associate with those reintegrated offenders to our community. However, it is not rational the way that our own people mostly blacks and Hispanics label others only by their mistakes, yes you automatically lose trust in some people but a second chance to reintegrate shouldn’t highlight how judgmental we are as a society.
Besides the economic impact of mass incarceration, the emotional and moral damage is even worse. Just by the fact of been labeled as a criminal prevents many people with criminal records to have a normal life. Not getting access to a decent job to afford their families’ needs, a house and even a driver license it’s very hard to get used to; most of them believe they don’t even have any autonomy anymore. And more over those kids growing up without their parents, missing the family support makes their lives harder to deal with. Therefore, mass incarceration has become a huge impact in our community and working along with the CRJ system and implementing fairness would be such a good help in order to give prisoners the chance to change their future.
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