In addition to long sentencing and mass incarceration, overcrowding is caused by the Truth in Sentencing Act. Although it is similar to long prison sentences, the Truth in Sentencing Act of 1984 makes it more difficult for prisoners to get out of prison early, thus creating overcrowding. This law demanded that prisoners must serve at least 85% of their initial prison sentence. Although not all states follow this, most do require that a prisoner spends a mandatory percentage of time in prisons (Mauer). This forces people to stay in prison longer without options for early release programs. Early release programs are often better for prisoners because it allows them to make an attempt at living their lives and allows them to try and become a useful part of society, and a part of their home community. Although it can be beneficial for some inmates to serve that much time, for most this is not the case.Order now
Many feel that the Truth in Sentencing Act was created without thought on how it may affect the capacity of the prisons. According to Mauer, “The federal guidelines are a prime example of this, since they were developed without a significant concern for prison capacity.” This signifies that the Truth in Sentencing Act was created without consideration toward the number of inmates that would stay in prison longer as new inmates are admitted at the same time. Forcing people to stay in prisons for a mandatory 85% of their sentence has an enormous effect on how many prisoners we have versus the amount of space for them. This lack of consideration is yet another factor of which leads to this growing problem in America. What needs to be done is an increase in the programs that help relieve those of their sentences sooner.
There are solutions to deal with prison overcrowding that have been proven to work. These come in the form of “reduction programs”. Most prison population reduction programs are founded on the principles of releasing prisoners as appropriately as possible to make space for new inmates. Furthermore, as quoted from Pitts, Griffin, and Johnson on reduction programs:
“Generally referred to as backdoor strategies, prison population reduction usually entails providing early release incentives to inmates who qualify for such programs. Parole, parole reforms, home confinement/house arrest, work release, and good time credits all could be classified as means of directly reducing prison populations (Clear et al., 2011; Feinstein, 2011; Harris, 1991; Judge, 1982; Kendrick, 2011; Papy & Nimer, 1991; Smith & Akers, 1993; Turner, 2011).” (130)
This shows there are many different ways in which to release prisoners-not all supplying them with complete “freedom”. Pitts, Griffin, and Johnson state that these programs “have an immediate impact on the availability of prison space. (131)”. In other words, these reduction programs quickly create more space for new admissions into prisons. These programs are important not only because they let people out of prisons to continue their lives, but they also create much needed space to house the extremely violent/ deadly offenders that deserve the long sentences. Allowing parole for some prisoners immediately releases them, house arrest forces them to stay inside their homes, and work release, meaning one is let out and forced to work, create the space needed to help conquer overcrowding.
However, there are problems with these programs. Mauer expresses that the issue with early release programs is that human behavior is unpredictable and mistakes can happen. She is speaking of recidivism. Recidivism can be caused by not being punished long enough, or not being able to stay away from a life of crime- something many of them struggle with. Recidivism is an issue among prisons and those inside them. When a prisoner is let out of prison and resorts back to crime like before, this is known as recidivism. It is impossible to know if an ex-convict will chose to go back to a life of crime. These early release programs are designed to let people out of prison and try to make it as unlikely as possible recidivism to occur. The hope is that prison reduction programs that let prisoners out early will combat recidivism because they would be grateful to be out of the overcrowded prisons. Without these programs, prisons would continue to fill up and we would be forced to build more. Building more prisons will not solve our problems- it will just prolong them.
Many of the people that are imprisoned in the United States are non-violent offenders. For example, nearly 53 percent of the 1.4 million prisoners in 2003 were nonviolent offenders (Katel 296). More prisoners are non-violent but are still struggling with the immensely long sentences that keep them in prison longer. Among these nonviolent offenders were those arrested for drug and property crimes, as well as public-order, etc. The population of nonviolent offenders in prison could have been reduced with the reduction programs along with alternative sentencing, keeping the vacancies open for the violent offenders that deserve longer prison sentences. As stated by Holder “Nearly half of federal inmates are serving time for drug crimes, and many need substance abuse treatment” (Glazer 29). Thus demonstrating if the half of the prisoners in federal prisons received the rehabilitation they needed instead of the longer sentencing, overcrowding would decrease and people would actually benefit. Allowing rehabilitation services would help the prisoners by letting them get their lives back. Without these services, many released prisoners will likely resort to the life they had that got them locked up in the first place. But, instead, giving them the help they need will allow them to function as a part of society and allow them to pursue whatever it is that they want in life without being behind bars. These prisoners still need to be punished, but not for as long or the same way as the others. There are different ways to punish someone who has broken the law, such as alternatives to going to prison, and shorter prison stays than normal.
Along with rehabilitation and sentencing reform, allowing prisoners to receive education while in prison is very controversial. This education can either be a college degree or a general education diploma. Many feel that spending taxpayer’s money to educate prisoners is a waste of time and hard earned money. However, according to Jacobson, educating prisoners will evidently save money in the long run. He then states “the more education you have when you leave , the better off you’re going to be” thus demonstrating that educating our prisoners allows them to have what Jamie Fellener states as a “smoother re-entry into society saves public money” (Katel 296). When an inmate is released from prison, it is difficult for them to find employment, and can be more difficult for them to start their lives over due to their criminal record. If an inmate can receive an education while in prison they have a better chance of getting hired and being able to “catch up” to society. According to Roy Pinto, the vice president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, states that supplying prisoners with the education to receive a GED is often better for the prisoners, and he also expresses “…you’d be surprised at how many people in prison can’t read or write; if you can’t read or write you can’t support yourself honestly” (Katel 296). If prisoners cannot read or write, when they are released from prison it is likely they will be seriously unable to find a job and support themselves to the point where crime is their only option again and they relapse into criminal behavior.