Today, prison reform has become a topic of major discussion. It’s safe to say it has successfully been added to the agenda of our nation. If you don’t already know, prison reform is the idea of reforming our prison system, by improving prison conditions, reducing the penalties for non-violent crimes, and many other facets of the criminal justice system. The big question you might be asking is, “why do we need prison reform?” Well, let’s dive into it.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. This rate is at 639 per 100,000 people. In total, the United States has roughly 2.3 million people in jails, prisoners, correctional facilities, and other forms of detention centers. These statistics should be alarming for the entire country.
The alarming amount of people incarcerated in the United States alone could make you understand why prison reform is needed. However, the costs of mass incarceration in the United States will really grab your attention. The United States spends billions of dollars on prisons, 182 billion a year to be more specific. Not to mention the fact there are many costs that aren’t recorded in this statistic. Those hidden costs are typically the ones the family of the incarcerated individual is paying, which includes costs like court fees, phone and email charges, and so on. In 2015, a report found that the family of an incarcerated individual paid around 13,000 dollars on average, for fees and fines. However, it’s not just the government spending on prisons or the financial burden incarceration puts on one’s family. Prisons are costing taxpayers 80 billion a year too.
Another scary aspect of mass incarceration in the United States is the underlying racism involved. Despite only making up roughly 13.4% of the population in the United States, African Americans have the largest rate of incarceration (a rate of 2,306 per 100,000 people). From the same report (2010), whites were incarcerated at a rate of 450 per 100,000 people, even though they make up 76.3% of the U.S. population. Some may look at these statistics and realize how alarming these rates by population really are, however, to some, these numbers may not get the point across. To really drive home the point that systematic racism is real and it’s happening every day with our criminal justice system, here is a horrifying statistic: African American males, who are in similar situations to white males (in terms of offense/crime), received longer sentences by 19.1%.
The offenses in which people are incarcerated are a problem in itself. 46.3% of inmates were convicted of drug-related offenses. That is more than weapons, explosives, arson offenses (20.3%), sex offenses (11.1%), robbery offenses (3.4%), and homicide/assault/kidnapping offenses (3.3%) combined. Non-violent crimes are the biggest reason for incarceration in the United States and it’s not even a close race. The second highest offense that leads to incarceration is extortion/fraud/bribery, which only comes in at 5.2%. That is means drug-related offenses are leading to incarceration at a higher rate by almost nine times what the second-largest offense is.
Prison reform is a serious topic that needs serious answers. When you see the problems with our criminal justice and prison system, you have to understand that these are real problems that our country and the people living in it are facing every day. To sit back and remain silent will only allow these horrifying statistics to continue to get worse. Everything starts by informing yourself about the subjects that matter. We here at TYRO want to encourage you to make prison reform a subject to care about.