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    Mass Incarceration in the U.S. Essay

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    The United States, a powerhouse in the race for evolution, a country that is an expertise in all known subjects and more. Though, America has participated in heinous behaviors that have been unknown to the general public, one including, mass incarceration. People in the U.S. confined in prisons or jails at a startling rate. [9]With America owning 5% of the world’s population, we also house 25% of the world’s prison population. That is approximately 1.8 billion people that we have imprisoned with us each and everyday. Using the most recent data available, 753 per 100,000 people in the U.S. are in prison or jail. More than 3x higher than the next country with second highest. This billion-dollar industry has problems of its own and financial tolls on our economy. The state of life of prisoners, their well-being after their sentence, and the degrading economic standpoint on costs of maintenance contributes to the fact that we are living within a multi-faceted failing project. Measures will need to be taken if growth and expansion of worldwide influence is encouraged.

    With all that money people invest in incarceration, people are obliged to think that prisoners have all their basic needs met. While that stands true for some prisons, others are unfortunate in that scenario. A particular one in New Orleans is horrifying to read about, with the kind of treatment they partake on their prisoners. [8]A former prisoner by the name of Jelpi Picou says, “They demean people, they humiliate them, they try to emasculate people. They are unprofessional and inhumane, from the top to the bottom.” Picou was referring to the officers on duty, whose jobs entailed for the prisoners’ well-being. They did quite the opposite and enacted barbaric deeds instead. Naturally, the prisoners ignited a flame of hate for the parole officers and were irritated to the fact that they could not execute defense mechanisms. Though they soon unleashed that repressed rage onto weaker prisoners that didn’t give much of a fight. This uncouth procedure continued even after lights out. The only event that would satisfy the guards’ carnal hunger would be the nightly bout between two juveniles. A sadistic mind people must have to enjoy watching children beaten, as blood trickles down the side of their faces. Picou states, “…[they’ve] been accused of atrocious crimes, but they’re still kids.” The correctional facility has created official statements and denied any claims.

    Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman established, “There’s a zero-tolerance policy regarding violence and abusive behavior.” In regards to that declaration, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report that went against what Gusman said. It proved that the guards did use excessive violence, and that it often lead to serious injuries. The prisoners themselves were stripped of their rights as a citizen of the United Stated and a human being. The complaint process for revealing the officers’ demonic attitudes is what’s considered “broken”. The inmates would fill one out and respectfully pass it to a guard, who would then interrupt the system by failing to give it to a supervising officer. This happened 405 times in a span of ten months, of which 399 were investigated or closed. That meant that close analysis wasn’t done and each case was woefully ignored. Now this happens across the continent without our consent but not always in the form of physical abuse. [6]Approximately 2,570 youth offenders are serving life without parole sentences. They reside in adult prisons and experience inhumane conditions and U.S. is the only country that harbors this situation. Alison Parker, director of the U.S. program at Human Rights Watch says, “…neither youth offenders, nor any other prisoner, should endure any form of physical abuse.” This perversion of power causes a depression over youths. It is often detailed that those people in prison have thoughts of suicide and feel very lonesome, reverberated only by solitary confinement. Parker summarizes, “Because children are different, shutting the door to growth, development, and rehabilitation turns a sentence of life without parole into a punishment of excessive cruelty. Youth offenders should be given a path to rehabilitation while in prison – not forced to forfeit their future.”[6]

    Not only does the physical stability of people in jail paramount to the severity of the problem, but also mental robustness. Taken from the same article of the Orleans Parish Prison, there are ripple effects that transverse into the real world. [8]Physical and mental wellness of prisoners isn’t a preeminent issue at the moment, but sources indicate that there is a direct connection between what goes in prisons and what happens on the street. Abused prisoners were more likely to return with a fierce rage and unleash it on innocent people, restarting the cycle of brutality. Prisons like OPP are breeding grounds for dangerous criminals to be reused or be born. The weak are at high risk and the incarceration rate in the United States is so preposterous, there is a 1/55 chance in Louisiana that people have of being imprisoned. In 2010 alone, 11,423 arrests were made for just traffic offenses. There is also a disregard for cell placement because violent people would board with harmless ones. They are seen as one in the same while technically there is a degree of fatality we should categorize them in. OPP was planning to construct a new building to better their facilities, but a project won’t shield them from the harsh reality they painted with blood. Case Western Reserve University wrote an article about inmates with severe mental illness. [3]Amy Wilson, adept at researching jail and prison issues, lead the surveys and spoke out about it. “Reentering the community after a period of incarceration in jail is a complex situation.” Wilson conducted a survey to learn why inmates with mental illnesses don’t take advantage of available mental health services after releases. A sub-survey was operated that asked inmates their priorities when they were released, 65% said housing, 35% money, and only 12% for mental health. Apparently their brain’s well being wasn’t an imminent threat to their overall functional performance. Transition from jail to community is often believed to be straightforward, in the sense that their family and friends will support them financially and socially.

    That is rarely the case though. Some lose everything to driver’s licenses, Social Security cards, and access to house or apartment. They will need to start from the bottom and work their way up the ladder once more. The inmates with severe mental illness are in dire need of social service programs such as public assistance, public mental health, and substance abuse services. To have people acquire these leverages, their basic needs must be met first. We as a society must assume responsibility for taking care of the mentally challenged, and to ensure that both their basic needs and treatment that’s required for the critical transition from jail to community. To the inmates without the mental instability, there is that obstacle of reemployment. [7]The Urban Institute | Justice Policy Center had Christy Vishner, Sara Debus, and Jennifer Yahner look into it. They found out that 8 months after prison, 65% of the respondents had been employed at some point but only 45% were currently employed at the time of the survey. Again, most of them relied on their family and friends for income. People who held a job during prison and joined job-training programs had better employment outcomes than the people who didn’t. They also constituted that in-prison jobs helped people from being incarcerated again. There were high-recidivism rates in the first year of release to people who didn’t participate in the operations, 44% rearrested, and 22% reconvicted, while 10% returned for a new sentence. Summarizing this volume of information comes down to the fact that we must not ignore the people coming out of jail. They just went through something very traumatic and they need our help to bridge the gap we precariously built to separate our two societies.[7]

    Transitioning into a financial perspective, the expenditures for imprisoning people are skyrocketing figures, and on top of America’s $15 trillion dollar debt, they have the audacity to spend so much on putting people behind bars. [5]As stated before, the U.S. is the world leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people in prisons or jails, and that number is growing. There has been a 500% increase over the last 30 years, this results in prison overcrowding and state governments are overwhelmed by burden of funding the penal system. This continually happens, despite the increasing evidence that large-scale incarceration is not the most effective in achieving public safety. One of the states in danger of overspending is Michigan. [1]Their education system is competing for funds because it’s directly transmitted into the upkeep of prisons and jails. There is a major gap in Michigan education and 62% of jobs will require a post-secondary education by 2018. Less than 40% of today’s workers qualify for that stipulation.

    Prisons and universities battle for shrinking state budgets, but much of the budget is protected and cannot be cut in the near term. The higher education finances are the least protected and therefore suffer the deepest cuts. Doug Rothwell, CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, articulates that, “Our public universities are a major driver of Michigan’s economy, yet we are spending more on a prisoner in one year, than we are to help a Michigan student go to college for 4 years. This investment strategy is upside down if we want to attract business investment and good paying jobs.” Rothwell clearly understands the importance of schooling in Michigan than other people who advocate for prison spending. Greater powers are at work to protect prison budgets by putting a lot of people in jail and for longer. They want to show that they care about “Law & Order” and prove their toughness on crime. Corporations that run outsourced prisons want to raise revenues. They promote tough mandatory sentencing and parole restrictions. Michigan is a high-cost jailer, it imprisons 51% more of its residents compared to its neighbors. While across the continental divide, California confronts its problems. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former California governor, sums it all up in a matter of numbers. 30 years ago, 10% of the general fund went to higher education and only 3% went to prisons. Today, almost 11% go to prisons and only 7.5% go to higher education.

    This route doesn’t help in improving the economy, proceeding into the future, or even the U.S.’ infamous world title in incarceration. With state revenues pressured among other things and prison budgets off-limits to the public, funds for higher education have been slashed. This causes colleges and universities to raise tuitions to keep afloat. Michigan-based companies will have to to move jobs out-of-state, and every other state hesitates to expand in Michigan. North Carolina on the other hand makes the right choices. They have an economy similar to Michigan’s but travels to better ground by funding education more than prisons. As a result, a 4-year degree costs about $38,215 in Michigan, and only $18,887 in North Carolina. [2]To financially connect this to the previous paragraph, nonviolent LWOP (life without parole) prisoners are costing taxpayers over $1.7 billion dollars more if LWOP isn’t an option. U.S. private companies are supporting for more imprisonment. The Corrections Corp. of America gained $1.7 billion dollars in 2010. The Geo Group gained $1.2 billion, each companies’ CEO making an average of $3.3 million. The state and federal government filter money into private prisons, making them into a multi-billion dollar industry. This can be avoided of course by trimming correctional expenditures. [4]

    If they cut the incarceration of nonviolent offenders by half, the U.S. budget would decrease by $16.9 billion per year! State governments could save $7.6 billion while local governments could save $7.2 billion dollars. In 2008, federal, state, and local governments spent about $75 billion on corrections. The only plausible explanation for this absurd spending is an increase in criminal activity. But that data only contributes to a miniscule scale in the rise of incarceration. Violent and property crime rose and fell over the years, but the rate is still continuing to escalate rapidly. There are numerous ways to downsize costs, but that also means colossal repercussions and major work. The number one way to make this situation better is to cut down the number of non-violent offenders in prisons or jails in half. This would be ideal, but again, there will be chaos and people will riot. Though for change to occur, compromises must be made and consequences be dealt with. That is the price of the American dream.[4]

    In conclusion, the surreal bubble we surround ourselves is naive and masks the darkness underneath. There are higher powers at work here, that means the faceless corporations and the red-handed government workers. They continue to orchestrate dastardly deeds behind our backs, and we were too blinded to see it. The extent of the magnitude the U.S. imprisons its own citizens is inconceivable. We have dug a grave three times deeper than the next guy. The well being of prisoners is underrated and should be called attention to. Also the billions of dollars the U.S. wastes on the maintenance of correctional facilities is astonishing. All of this, happening beneath our noses. As the great Roger “Verbal” Kint in the Usual Suspects said, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

    Works Cited

    1.Brodwin, David. “How High Prison Costs Slash Education and Hurt the Economy.” US News. U.S.News & World Report, 24 May 2012. Web. 3 May 2014. .

    2.Filipovic, Jill. “The Incalculable Cost of Mass Incarceration | Al Jazeera America.” The Incalculable Cost of Mass Incarceration | Al Jazeera America. N.p., 22 Nov. 2013. Web. 3 May 2014. .

    3.”Released Inmates Need Programs to Meet Basic, Mental Health Needs, Study Shows.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 Jan. 2014. Web. 1 May 2014. .

    4.Schmitt, John, Kris Warner, and Sarika Gupta. The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration. Washington, DC: Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2010. Center for Economic and Policy Research. June 2010. Web. 3 May 2014. .

    5.”The Sentencing Project News – Incarceration.” The Sentencing Project News – Incarceration. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 May 2014. .

    6.”US: Harsh Conditions for Young Lifers | Human Rights Watch.” US: Harsh Conditions for Young Lifers | Human Rights Watch. N.p., 3 Jan. 2012. Web. 2 May 2014. .

    7.Vishner, Christy, Sara Debus, and Jennifer Yahner. “Employment after Prison: A Longitudinal Study of Releasees in Three States.” (n.d.): 1-9. Urban Institute | Justice Policy Center. Oct. 2008. Web. 1 May 2014.

    8.Webster, Richard A. “Prison Guards, Inmate Detail Brutality inside Jail.” New Orleans CityBusiness. N.p., 17 Nov. 2011. Web. 27 Apr. 2014. .

    9.Criminal Justice Fact Sheet.” NAACP. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 May 2014. .

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