Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Student paper on prison overcrowding

This is a student paper about prison overcrowding.  I've removed some footnotes where the student gave sources.

Prison Overcrowding
“Based on current projections, by 2011 the U.S. prison population will increase by 13% – which is triple the growth of the entire population as a whole – to more than 1.7 million”* (Alcohol Monitoring Systems). This statistic is astounding and it is all in regards to prison overcrowding.
 A major public policy problem lies in prison overcrowding. Many of our prisons are filled with offenders that have not actually committed violent crimes. Actually, many of the offenses that are against the individuals are non-violent crimes. Perhaps they are in jail because they committed a crime that involved drug usage or being pulled over for a DUI. These types of arrests don’t warrant one to be placed in jail; rather the offender needs to be rehabilitated. I believe a solution would be to provide more services or rehabilitation programs that can better aid the core issues criminals have, instead of incarcerating them. 
Prison overcrowding is at an all-time high. According to Alcohol Monitoring Systems, experts from criminal justice think tanks and the U.S. Department of Justice predict that by 2011 the U.S prison population will increase by 13 percent to more than 1.7 million. That number is triple the growth of the entire population as whole! This means that more money has to be funded to prisons to be able to accommodate this large number. Talk about needing more money! As well, that large increase would cause American taxpayers and local/state budgets an estimated $27.5 billion dollars!
                  Prisons should house people who have committed more heinous crimes such as murder, child mutilation and the like, instead of crimes such as a DUI. Another factor that should be investigated about offenders before they are even placed in prison is why they committed the crime. For example, a person may have committed a murder, but may have been in the wrong mental state.  If they have a serious mental issue, prison will not alleviate the problem, it will simply hide it. The mental issue needs to be evaluated so that upon their release, they will not commit the crime again. Thus, individuals should be screened to address the root cause of the crime, and this would cut down on the amount of prison entries.
                  Another issue to take into account is the rate of recidivism. If you house prisoners for a crime they committed and they are released but return, that can also cause prison overcrowding. It is clear that perhaps a person spending time in prison does nothing to deter them from crime, if they end up back in prison. According to the prison commission, after three years of release 67% of former prisoners are rearrested and 52% are re-incarcerated. This a very high rate because that is over half of the released population.  If this is true and prisons are not deterring crime, monies should be put in other places. Studies have further shown that about forty percent of offenders committing violations to parole end up going back to jail. In this manner, they are taking up valuable space, space that could be used to offenders who have committed more serious crimes.  I am not totally against prisons; I just think that overcrowding would not be present if there were better alternatives.                 
As well, the monies being placed in the prison systems could be monies placed into more community programs, to prepare offenders to go back into society. Especially needed are reintegration programs for those who have not committed hard crimes, as well as juveniles, as they have the best probability for staying out of trouble after release, and we should expect good programs to lower recidivism from 67% to 40% or lower.. Also, more community programs would make for more jobs to social workers, teachers and the like. Why not help people so that they can in turn help others? As well, what about charging fines to those who have smaller crimes as opposed to incarceration?
The social work profession is founded on believing that people can change no matter what they have done. That is, with the proper services and support. Prison overcrowding would decrease immensely if we focused more on helping troubled individuals, rather than wagging our fingers at them and placing them in a ”time out”. 

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