Locked Up

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Anna Belle Murray, Staff Writer

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There are currently over two million people being incarcerated in the U.S. In the last thirty years, spending on jails has increased at 3x the rate of spending on preK to grade 12 public education. Our country is currently facing a massive problem with the way that we imprison our people. Furthermore, despite being 13% of the population, one out of three black men will go to prison at one point in their lifetimes.

In 1971, Richard Nixon said that the United States needed a “war against drugs.” This “war” involves a $51 billion annual budget to incarcerate drug users and drug dealers. Although it seems excessive now, this war was necessary because at the time, America’s violent crime rates were at a high. The public wanted the government to step in which has led our country to have the highest amount of prisoners in the world. We remain the highest in mass incarceration even though crime has decreased in the past twenty years.

In the United States, studies have found that African American and Caucasian men use drugs at very similar rates, but African Americans are six times more likely to be imprisoned for drug charges than white men. In a U.S. prison, one in five men were incarcerated for committing a nonviolent drug offense. On top of being more likely to go to jail, a black man’s sentence is typically 19.5% longer than a white man’s.

Many people argue that black men and women are in prison more often because they commit more crimes. Research has shown that higher crime rates in black communities have led to 61 – 80% of overrepresentation in prisons. This does not account for 20 – 39% of black prisoners who may have landed there due to factors such as racial bias of police officers or criminal records from the past.

It is clear that a racial bias is involved with the way our country incarcerates its people. The effects of being incarcerated last a lifetime. There are currently 5.9 million people who can’t vote due to felony convictions. One in seven black men have lost the right to vote due to a felony.

Ex-convicts can also be banned from receiving welfare, qualifying for student loans, accessing public housing, and being employed for certain jobs. Once a person goes to prison or is convicted for a crime, the seriousness of the next offence increases catastrophically. The US has mandatory minimums which automatically will give a person jail time due to a past crime. If a citizen has committed a third offence for trafficking a type A drug, they receive a minimum of seven years in jail.

The United States spends $80 billion a year to hold prisoners. In many ways, for troubled and lower class citizens, prison is a better option than freedom. They don’t have to worry about food or finding a place to live. This may account for the 77% of people who found themselves back behind bars just five years after being released. Why is the prison system in the United States so flawed?

The United States has the most prisoners and the longest sentencing dates in the world. The United States makes up 5% of the world’s population and holds 25% of the world’s prisoners. We hold more prisoners than countries such as Russia, North Korea, and China. The United States is also experiencing historic lows for crime rates. The War against Crime clearly has worked and crime rates have gone down, but the incarceration rates are staying the same. Along with the high incarceration rates of the U.S., are very loose gun laws, compared to the rest of the world.

A better regulation on guns seems like a far better option than having to lock up men who commit violent crimes. Shorter sentencing times may also help with our prison epidemic. By locking up the amount of people our country has, we are lowering crime rates as well as spending a massive amount of money on prisons through taxes and setting up people to live a life where employment rates are much lower and finding a place to live is much tougher.

A lowering of prison rates will benefit everyone in the country and alternative punishments such as probation or public service could help stop the growing prisons that are deteriorating the U.S. and taking away the freedom that our country stands for.

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