An American Epidemic
The United States has a vast and diverse system of criminal justice that is balanced between federal, state, and local levels, and it touches a large part of the American population. In fact, at the end of 2014, there were an estimated 1,561,500 people in federal and state prisons (Bureau of Justice Statistics). The official incarceration rate in the United States for the population over 18 is 612 people per 100,000 residents. However, even though these statistics are produced by the justice arm of the federal government, they do not represent the whole story. In fact, the Justice Department only provides estimates on the actual numbers, and groups like the Prison Policy Initiative say that in 2016, there are more than 2.3 million people locked away in one system of confinement, whether it is a state, federal, juvenile, local or Indian Country jail or indeed a military prison, civil commitment center, immigration center, or prison in one of the U.S. territories (Wagner and Rabuy).
Officially, the prison population at the end of 2014 represented a one percent drop from 2013 and the smallest total number of people in prison since 2005, representing a massive decline over 35 years. Though, other sources like the Prison Policy Initiative tell a different story. The exact figures are of little comfort because one figure is agreed upon – the United States is home to five percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prison population (Ye Hee Lee). There is another thing that almost every organization can agree on: American prisons are demonstrably overcrowded (One nation, behind bars). Overcrowding has serious consequences because it endangers the lives of everyone who encounters these prisons, drains financial resources from other important parts of the justice system, like investigations and defense, and arguably walks all over the constitutional rights of Americans who find themselves in prison (Mayeux).
The following paper aims to show how prison overcrowding in the United States is the result of an outdated criminal justice system, the targeting of minorities, a failure of rehabilitation programs within the system, and corporate greed on behalf of the private firms that both manage American prisons and have contracts with the U.S. government.
Outdated Criminal Justice
The Justice Department says that fifty percent of inmates serving in federal corrections systems had been convicted of drug offenses, and this was also the case for 16% of state prisoners (Bureau of Justice Statistics). This high incarceration rate for drug offenses and non-violent drug offenses are a remnant of several previous federal administrations’ ‘War on Drugs,’ in which the crackdown on any and all drug offenses came with a weighty jail sentence rather than probation, fines, or rehabilitation. Indeed, the situation grew worse under President Clinton’s “Three Strike Rule,” which sent Americans who had received th...