Ellison is a new online writer who often writes about social issues, including the U.S. prison system.
Prison overcrowding is starting to become an increasingly expensive and dangerous problem in America. In fact, “the United States incarcerates more individuals per capita than any other country in the world, currently 2.1 million” (Sharp 38). Overpopulation is becoming a major problem; too many prisoners are going to jail for minor crimes, such as possession of marijuana and jaywalking, and not enough are coming out of prison with a new perspective and better morals to improve the state of our country. The United States is simply rotating through prisoners rather than preventatively decreasing America’s crime rate.
A systematically viable solution needs to be found. Two strong solutions are to either better the quality of preventative education in our children’s schools to reduce the rate of crime that graduates produce out of high school, or (preferably) to put prisoners in rehabilitation to reduce the likelihood that they will ever return to prison.
The Problem With the State's Authority
The problem with the state's authority over incarceration rates is that they are spending more money on incarceration than preventative education. This does nothing to decrease the population of Americans behind bars. Studies show that “in the past two decades, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education” (Gopnik 493). As a result, American citizens are concerned that their tax money is going to waste. They feel that their children's education is far more important than paying to increase incarceration.
Misallocation of Resources
States are not spending enough money on education. This is clearly demonstrated by looking at how tax money has been spent over the past two decades. Maybe if states would have put more money (and focus) into preventative education and future-building classes in high schools, then less people would leave high school without a diploma. This would likely decrease the rate of citizens that end up in jail.
Additionally, “more than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives” (Gopnik 492). States aren’t putting in enough effort to educate children (especially black males). We should put putting more resources towards preventing them from being incarcerated in the first place.
States are also putting too much time and money into incarcerating people for minor crimes. Rather than focusing on rehabilitation, making efforts to instill good ethics in prisoners, prisons are focusing more on punishment and less on education and skills-building.
States should spend more time and money on discouraging citizens from entering our penal system. The aim should be to prevent kids from a life of criminal behavior. If they implemented some sort of a community outreach program that talked about ways to help kids find solutions to their problems and provided them with a path to graduate from high school, then there would be less young adults that end up serving time.
Factors That Have Contributed to the High Prison Rate
There are many negative factors that contribute to the high number of prisoners in America. In his article, “High School Dropouts," Wiley states that “young children with behavior problems, children with convicted parents, and children growing up in low socioeconomic status (SES) families are more prone to later delinquency and violence. However, factors such as parental supervision, school engagement, positive child rearing practices, and self-control reduce delinquency among these groups and therefore operate as protective factors.” Evidence shows that kids could benefit from preventative education and intervention programs. This would decrease the rate of high school dropouts, and therefore, potential incarcerations.
Wiley says, “The research shows that at topnotch community schools, fewer students are suspended or have discipline issues. The achievement gap shrinks, and more youngsters go to college." Studies show that kids with more disciplinary challenges in school and at home, have a higher chance of giving up on their studies and participating in acts of criminal behavior as adults. Therefore, implementing educational measures to prevent that will help to decrease the rate of incarceration in America.
Why States Should Focus More on Rehabilitation
If states would focus more time on the rehabilitation of people who have broken the law, rather than wasting money on incarcerating them, there would be less overcrowding of prisons in America.
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Anyone Can Change for the Better
Some people have started programs predicated on the belief that not all prisoners are terrible people. They believe that almost anyone can change for the better. Lagemann writes, “a discussion of the accomplishments and contributions of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals, including Glenn Martin, founder of JustLeadershipUSA, an organization that seeks to train and inspire formerly incarcerated individuals to step into community leadership roles [have a positive affect on motivating other convicts]." It is quite an incredible accomplishment to transition someone into a helping community member who is capable of leading others.
Prisons Need to Build Character, Not Break It
Additionally, “there are other issues that need to be tackled in order to make prisons places that build character rather than break it. Recognizing the humanity of others starts with how we treat each other. Publishing this brief commentary is a step in the right direction. Once you give prisoners a voice, you open the door to healthy communication” (Travis 42). Here, Travis explains that people who have worked with “offenders” for many years tend to agree that people from prison should be put through rehabilitation and treated more humanely. These sentiments are often echoed by the dean of Harvard Law.
This solution has already started to show success. McCampell and Valquier write, “Jails now partner with communities to emphasize rehabilitation over incarceration, and crime prevention. They are, by default, the communities' 24-hour mental health crisis centers—all while maintaining offender rights, doing more with less funding, and keeping the public safe. Jails have had to realign their visions and missions to meet the ever-changing needs of society” (McCampell and Valquier 49). These “mental health crisis centers” are not only helping prisoners change after their release, they are also improving their overall mental health.
Prisoners Deserve a Chance to Turn Their Lives Around
The ideal solution is to rehabilitate lawbreakers. While increased education is an important goal, changing education is more difficult than simply explaining that every prisoner deserves a chance to turn their life around. It is also more cost effective to start organizations that are funded by donations from the community and organizations rather than the government (which often causes conflict between parents and the education system). Some parents will complain that their taxes are paying for classes and programs that they may not agree with. They do not feel that it is the school's place to push morals on their children.
There are too many Americans that are being incarcerated, and a solution needs to be found to prevent the loss of taxpayer money and an increased risk of danger towards Americans. Therefore, action needs to be taken. The choices that we make right now will affect America's prisons and financial future for a very long time. If we do not act now to create and implement an ideal plan of action, more people will be incarcerated and the United States will have an overflow of prisoners. This will be an ever-increasing burden to taxpayers. The likelihood of the rehabilitation project becoming more widespread and further instituted across the United States is quite possible. I believe that people can be persuaded to be merciful.
Gopnik, Adam. "The Caging of America” 2nd ed. Oxford UP. 2017. pp. 491—506
Lagemann, Ellen. “Liberating Minds: The Case for College in Prison.” The New Press. 2016. pp. 240.
McCampbell, Susan W. & Valquier, Leon. American Jails. Nov/Dec2018, Vol. 32 Issue 5, pp. 47—52.
Sharp, Alexander E. Christian Century. June 6th, 2018. Vol. 135 Issue 12, pp. 38—39. A review of the book Inside Private Prisons: An American Dilemma in the Age of Mass Incarceration by Lauren-Brooke Eisen.
Wiley. "High School Dropouts." Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection, Gale, 2015. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Accessed 13 Nov. 2018.
W., Travis. "By Any Other Name." The Humanist. Nov.—Dec. 2018. pp. 42. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Accessed 14 Nov. 2018.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.