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A Call for Prison Reform

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Introduction

The American criminal justice system serves as a mechanism to administer societal justice. To ensure societal justice, the legal system deters crime by detaining unlawful violators, eradicating them from society and providing appropriate punishment. It accomplishes these goals through the prison system.

However, the contemporary criminal justice system witnesses serious decline. Unfortunately, the prison system no longer upholds its conventional justice model. Frankly, our prison system seems more like a privileged playground than place of punishment. Apparently, prisoners receive better treatment than our most impoverished law-abiding Americans. Rather than punish, the prison system rewards prisoners for their malevolent machinations, psychologically reinforcing criminal behavior, exacerbating recidivism. Prisoners deserve no such comfort.

Without deterrence, prisoners only replicate crimes. Whatever happened to the just deserts model, which advocates corresponding retribution for reprehensible conduct? Yet, administrative incompetence unceasingly persists. Unduly depriving taxpayers of money, the federal government invests exorbitantly on these criminals, confiscating inordinate funds to accommodate them. Why?

Additionally, as prisons at all levels become progressively more inundated, overcrowding presents another problem of unprecedented proportions. First, the prison system fails to classify prisoners corresponding with criminal severity. Our prison system seems to unnecessarily punish those individuals who truly deserve rehabilitation.

For example, innocuous individuals such as drug addicts, among numerous others, who pose minimum threat, belong in rehabilitation centers and lower level jails rather than prison. Unbelievable! American prisons seemingly target victimless crimes, and yet insufficiently punish more culpable criminals. Such misplacement of these persons unconstitutionally violates their 8th Amendment right, which prohibits ‘Cruel & Unusual punishment’. Go figure.

To compound the problem of overpopulation, illegal aliens swarm our prisons. Why not deport them? Hence, for these aforementioned reasons, ineffective administration of disciplinary punishment, superfluous government expenditure, and negligent prisoner overpopulation, the prison system necessitates extensive reform.

In contemporary American society, many prisoners experience undeserved special treatment. Rather than receive impartial punishment as the conventional criminal justice system advocates, they actually live a privileged lifestyle due to correctional facilities, which reward them for their actions. In prison, recreation encompasses various program activities. For example, ranging from passive activities to sports, recreation may include, “television/movies, board games, card games, billiards, bingo, hobbies such as ceramics, photography, music, art, basketball, volleyball, and/or strength training exercise like weight lifting,” (Correctional Recreation: An Overview, 1).

While prison institutions vary extensively in the recreational programs offered, “federal facilities tend to support a wider range of activities,” such as, “jogging tracks, outdoor recreational yards, softball fields, photography dark rooms, music rooms, hobby rooms, indoor and outdoor basketball courts, theaters, etc.,” (Correctional Recreation: An Overview, 1). How unconscionable! These criminals deserve no such rehabilitation.

Justice only prevails when convicts suffer the proper consequences for their actions. Whatever happened to the “just deserts” model of criminal sentencing, providing appropriate corresponding punishment commensurate with criminal severity, which our criminal justice system advocates?

Additionally, without deterrence, recurring recidivism results since the system psychologically reinforces negative behavior by rewarding them. It takes no rocket scientist to understand the flaws of ineffective punishment. Elected representatives unjustifiably “pamper convicted criminals,” eventually releasing them back into society, “to relieve overcrowding,” (Bowman, Kearney, 447).

The unwarranted appeasement and accommodation of prisoners signals a wrong message, inevitably them to repeat crimes. What recklessness! According to the MPC, someone satisfies culpability for recklessness when one “consciously” disregards a, “substantial and unjustifiable” risk, consequently resulting from their conduct (Samaha, 113).

As administrators of justice, our government officials possess the reasonable cognizance, prudence, and common sense to reform these substantial defects. Yet, they recklessly dismiss culpable conduct with perfunctory disregard. Unfortunately, their phlegmatic, pathetically slothful nature translates into incompetence, thereby preventing them from attempting resolution. Still, such inaction renders them accountable.

Furthermore, federal, state, and local governments invest approximately, “$62 billion” annually on correctional adult/juvenile correctional facilities (State Corrections Spending, 1). Since 1986, State Corrections expenditure aggrandized from $10,085,000,000 to “27,598,000,000” in 1996, surpassing $30 billion for 1998, and eventually, culminating at a total of “$42,890,000,000” (State Corrections Spending, 1). Current numbers supersede this astronomical statistic.

Following this pattern, projected federal and state funds expect to reach at least, “$27 billion”, “$15 billion” of which constitute operational funds and another “$12 billion,” in capital funds (State Corrections Spending, 1).

Fiscal year 2006 State Corrections expenditure metastasized, “10%” from 2005 levels, with anticipated growth of “10%” projected for 2007 (State Funding for Corrections Spending, 1). Operational costs include, “utilities, food, medical supplies, communication services, transportation, program services, and a variety of contracted support services,” among other correctional resources (Public Safety, Public Spending, 18).

Based on the abovementioned calculations, reasonable predictions suggest increases anywhere from, “$2.5 – 5 billion annually by 2011,” (Public Safety, Public Spending, 18). How abhorrent! Essentially, the taxpayer spends billions of dollars each year not to punish, but rather reward criminals for their misconduct. Why the frivolous expense?

High recidivism rates characterize the current American prison system. Consider national statistics. According to data collected by the Bureau of Justice indicated that among prisoners released in 1994, “67.5% became arrested for a new offense, with 46.9% convicted for committing new crimes,” (State Corrections Spending, 1).

Additionally, “51.8%” returned to prison either for committing a new offense or repeating crimes, violating the conditions of their release (State Corrections Spending, 1). The 1994 national study evaluated, “272,111 prisoners released from prison in 15 states,” which comprised, “2/3” of all discharged prisoners during that year (Bureau of Justice, 1). Recidivism stems directly from a flawed prison system, one that rewards its prisoners with recreation, psychologically reinforcing criminal behavior.

Worse, our criminal justice system in its objective actually aspires to reward prisoners rather than provide the proper punishment they deserve. For example, a 1999 York Correctional Institution Manual enumerated its various objectives, which includes, “providing positive leisurely alternatives, improving self esteem, enhancing health/fitness levels, ameliorating individual creativity, strengthening positive socialization skills, relieving institutional stress, and keeping inmates occupied to reduce idleness,” (Correctional Recreation: An Overview, 1).

Such objectives suggest to prisoners that the criminal justice system condones crime. It clearly sends the wrong message. Hence, such facilities intended as rehabilitation unjustifiably reward prisoners for their malevolent machinations, psychologically reinforcing their reprehensible behavior, which exacerbates recurring recidivism.

Prisons endure the interminable problem of overcrowding, as population inexorably proliferates. From the 1970s to 90s, our prison system witnessed dramatic population increases. During this interval, its population tripled, eventually surpassing approximately, “300 per 100,000,” by the early 1990s (Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, 659).

By 2002, the U.S. prison population reached roughly “2 million people,” approximately “702 people per 100,000” (PBS, 1). Obviously, the elevated national demographic commensurately corresponds with recent proliferation in prisoner population. Heightened demographic surpasses previous infrastructural capacity of prison systems, aggravating inundation.

Nevertheless, such instability stems directly from prison mismanagement. For example, consider the grotesque misplacement of prisoners. The Wisconsin super-max prison mentioned earlier harbors prisoners who never committed grievous crimes, often due to insufficient space, “in other facilities for other non-punitive reasons,” (Pettigrew, 1).

Relatively harmless prisoners exposed to the most oppressive conditions, directly violating their 8th Amendment right, which protects against cruel and unusual punishment, results all because of unmanageable prison populations. Alabama, Connecticut, and Nebraska among several other states contain severely overcrowded prisons.

In Alabama, prisons squeeze some, “27,000 prisoners,” into facilities designed to capacitate only, “13,000” at the expense of incarcerating non-violent prisoners such as, “drug and alcohol offenders,” (Research and Reports, 1). Likewise, Connecticut faces an overcrowding crisis as its population growth transcends national trends (Research and Reports, 1).

Nebraska prisons, a system that exceeded population capacity during the 1980s, incarcerate, “more than half of its inmates,” for nonviolent offenses (Research and Reports, 1). Moreover, criteria indicate continued demographic hypertrophy in prisons.

Recent estimates anticipate unprecedented population growth of prisoners in subsequent years, perhaps superseding, “192,000” inmates by the year 2011 (Public Safety, Public Spending, 1). Therefore, the prison system demands extensive reform. Consider the following alternatives.

Solutions

First, prison systems require reorganization of the prison population. Departments need to develop a more competent classification system that efficiently assesses criminal behavior and severity based on security risk.

Why not classify prisoners according to their level of risk (Improving Conditions in Overcrowded Prisons, 1)? After all, if “lower risk groups,” require lower level security, why not transfer them to jails and/or rehabilitative centers rather than prison.

For example, the lowest level minimum risk prisoners, such as alcoholics and drug addicts, belong in rehabilitation centers rather than prison. Drug offenders represent the greatest concentration, comprise, “59% of all prisoners (Faces of HR95, 1).

In 2004, “40% of state and 49%” participated in drug abuse treatment programs since their admission to prison (OJP, 1). All other non-violent minimum-security prisoners who pose the least threat to public safety belong in jail rather than prison. Approximately, “50%” of all arrests constitute victim less crimes (Bowman Kearney, 437).

In fact, the U.S. nonviolent prisoner population exceeds combined populations of, “Wyoming and Alaska,” (Irwin, John, 4). Unfortunately, among all the “1.2 million” drug offenders in prison only “200,000 individuals represent non-user drug dealers (Washington Monthly, 1). The others represent drug addicts.

Most of the other 1 million drug offenders represent non-violent drug addicts who belong in rehabilitative centers. Indeed, violent offenders in prison proved, “50% less likely,” than drug and property offenders to consume drugs during the month preceding their offense (OJP, 1).

These individuals pose no threat to society other than the potential effects of their substance addiction. Why not remove the non-violent drug abusers from prison? After all, public officials expect the cumulative cost of housing for methamphetamine offenders to exceed, “$340 million” (Public Safety, 11). The prison system requires a more efficient classification hierarchy of prisoners based upon criminal severity.

If public officials only removed minimum threat prisoners and supplanted them with more culpable criminals, we might resolve overpopulation. Why not transfer the non-violent drug addicts who currently cost unnecessary space and expense to rehabilitative centers for treatment? Why waste excessive tax money without representation?

They suffer from a non-violent addiction that requires psychological attention. Perhaps drug-dealers who sell death to others belong with murders either in maximum-security prisons or possibly serving capital punishment.

To further diminish prison overpopulation, the prison population requires removal of illegal immigrants. Approximately “27%” of the prison population harbors illegal aliens. As non-citizens, these individuals deserve no place even in American prisons (Faces of HR95).

They illegal entrance to America alone entails a felony. Roughly 2 million illegal aliens annually infiltrate U.S. borders, exacerbating crime, destabilizing the economy, predisposing the nation to additional terrorism, and ultimately, polluting our culture with malfeasance.

They alone cost the government billions of dollars in social subsidized programs. “Senate expenditures for amnesty estimate a combined “$50 billion” annually directed toward, “entitlements, Medicaid, Social Security Income, Earned Income Tax Credit, the WIC program, food stamps, public housing, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and federally funded legal representation,” (Phillips, 1).

Many refuse to learn English. Must we accommodate them? Deportation appears the only solution. Obliterating “27%” of the prison population considerably reduces superfluous space and expenses.

Minimize federal prison expenditures. Stop the superfluous waste of money on rehabilitative facilitates which only exacerbate recidivism. Prisoners deserve no privileges. Retribution remains the sole solution. The victimless offenders belong in rehabilitative centers. Heinous perpetrators deserve proper stringent punishment as a means of deterrence. By strengthening punishment, removing rehabilitative facilities, public officials attempt to reduce both unnecessary expenditure and recurring recidivism.

Though controversial, capital punishment may provide one solution for maximum threat criminals. Removing the most heinous perpetrators might accommodate sufficient space to reduce overcrowding and economize prison facility expenditures. However, various flaws inhibit efficient capital punishment application.

For one, racist motivations still exist. A disproportionately high number of African Americans receive capital punishment. Evidently, “42%” of death row inmates comprise Blacks (Bowman Kearney, 441). How unconscionable! In most situations, their selection for death row remains unjustified.

Secondly, it takes months, sometimes years, before a prisoner receives sentencing for execution. A New Jersey Policy Perspectives report corroborated that its state death penalty system cost taxpayers, “$253 million since 1983,” (NJADP, 1). Society demands an immediate, cost efficient solution to the death penalty.

Still, the death penalty remains a contentious issue. Prisoners need to die on their own terms. Ultimately, only God determines who deserves to die, as our Judeo-Christian foundation of justice advocates.

However, America also remains a secular institution as our First Amendment guarantees and the Eye-for-An-Eye Code of Hammurabi, which represents biblical Old Testament scripture, also applies to our American criminal justice model.

Yet, other critics consider the death penalty a violation of our 8th Amendment, which protects against cruel and unusual punishment. Again, death deserves death as enumerated by Hammurabi Code. Our system provides impartial corresponding punishment. If a person maliciously kills another than death appears justified in these worst-case scenarios.

Also, the conventional death penalty appears insufficiently harsh, and even appeasing, for criminals like Timothy Mc Veigh among others who find death an easy escape to life imprisonment. Perhaps putting people like McVeigh in a black hole, and allowing him to die on his own terms, might offer one feasible compromise. Another more humane solution might include exile, permanent abandonment from the U.S., and extraterritorial charges in a foreign prison.

Conclusion

The Prison system presents a significant problem of unparalleled proportions. Superfluous government expenditure, inadequate deterrence and application of punishment, alongside prisoner overpopulation pervade its system.

Our public officials assume a unreasonably reckless, cavalier attitude toward reform, since numerous common sense solutions exist. Nonetheless, they choose to avoid the issue, and these problems only perpetuate and escalate.

As Americans, we need to amalgamate as a nation, reform these degenerative aspects, and restore impartial justice as intended by our constitutional founders. Must taxpayers relinquish billions of dollars on unnecessary prison facilities and programs without representation or purpose? Must innocuous victimless criminals suffer unjustifiable penalties, while society exonerates the most heinous perpetrators? Hence, for these aforementioned reasons the prison system demands extensive reform.

Bibliography

1. Correctional Recreation, “Correctional Recreation: An Overview”, 2006, StrengthTech, Inc.

2. Bowman, Kearney, “State and Local Government – Seventh Edition”, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008

3. Samaha, Joel, “Criminal Law, Ninth Edition” Thomas Learning, Inc, 2008

4. Public Safety Performance Project, “State Corrections Spending” 2007,

5. Public Safety Performance Project, “Public Safety, Public Spending: Forecasting America’s Prison Population 2007-2011”, 2007

6. Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Recidivism of Prisoners in 1994”

7. “Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy – Volume 30, Number 2 Spring 2007”, 2007, Harvard Society for Law & Public Policy, Inc.

8. Pettigrew, Charles, A., “Comment: Technology and the Eighth Amendment: The Problem of Supermax Prisons”, North Carolina Journal of Law, 2002, NewsHour Extra Story, “U.S. Prison Population Hits All-time High”

9. Public Safety Performance, “Research & Reports,” 2007,

10. Centre for Justice & Reconciliation, “Improving Conditions in Overcrowded Prisons”, 2001-2007

11. Califano, Joseph, A., “A New Prescription – Investing in substance-abuse treatment would take a big bite out of crime”, Vol. 30, Issue 10, Oct. 1998, The Washington Monthly Online, Inc.

12. Human Rights 95, “Faces from the Human Rights and the Drug War exhibit”, Mar. 28, 1998

13. OJP, U.S. Department of Justice, “Drug Use and Dependence, State and Federal Prisoners, 2004”, Oct. 11, 2006

14. Irwin, John, Schiraldi, Vincent, Zeidenberg, Jason, “America’s One Million Nonviolent Prisoners”, Washington D.C. Justice Policy Institute, 1999, pg. 4

15. New Jerseyans for Alternatives the Death Penalty (NJADP), “New Report Death Penalty Cost New Jersey Taxpayers $250 million since 1982”, Nov. 21, 2005

16. Phillips, Howard, “The Constitutional Government Blog”

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About Michael Staib