Paula New York

Dear Next President

The future of overcrowding prison populations are on the line.

Dear Next President,

As the United States rises to the highest incarcerated country in the world, little has been done to reduce this dramatic climb. Almost 700 people for every 100,000 of the total population is incarcerated, and this number rises every year. In the last 40 years, the sentences for federal drug offenses alone have dramatically risen, due to the country’s tough War on Drugs policy.  In addition,  the extended minimum sentencing limits, due to former president Bill Clinton’s prison bill, has kept an extremely large number of prisoners in the system. If the numbers are allowed to keep increasing, the country will have very little time to slow the incarceration rate, which will result in the United States having a prison population no other country will ever surpass.

Many factors are to blame for the rising rate of incarceration, which leads to overcrowded facilities with inadequate resources. Harsh sentencing for offenses of drugs is a major factor. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, a non-profit movement for criminal justice reform, there are over one million drug possession arrests each year. These numbers are represented in the conclusive “Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie” organized by a nonprofit organization. This means that one in every five people actively incarcerated are charged with drug possessions. This information is valuable because this highlights the root of the overcrowding issue in the country. Drug offenses amount to a fairly large portion of the criminals housed in federal prisons around the country. Extreme sentencing has been source out as one of the main causes of overcrowding. In 1984, the amount of people serving life sentences was below 50,000. By 2012, that number rose to over 150,000. Mandatory minimums, says the Sentencing Project, another reformer for incarceration and prisoner rights, explains only some of the major increase. A 2012 publication from their site entitled, “Federal Mandatory Minimum Sentencing: An Overview of the 2011 Report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission," explains the established “harsh mandatory punishments for drug and firearm offenses has influenced the 800% rise in federal incarceration since 1980." This means that these inconsistently applied sentences are filling up the U.S federal prisons full of inmates who otherwise wouldn’t be spending that extended period of time there. This information is crucial because this is the most outstanding evidence of a problem with this system, leaving the question of what will be done to fix this travesty.

Everyone both in and out of the criminal justice system is affected by this problem. The inmates incarcerated are left with outrageous sentences and placed in facilities that lack resources and are incapable of holding a surplus of inmates. Correctional officers are of limited manpower and resources, because they are tasked with watching more prisons than is meant for the facility, which endangers their lives and the lives of the inmates they oversee. In addition, the lack of rehabilitation programs leads to repeat offenders who continually harm themselves and the public, furthering the overcrowding.

The public, along with incarceration reformers agree that the overcrowding in federal prisons, among the other problems, absolutely cause issues in all sectors, including the economy. According to the report of the Bureau of Prisons conducted by Congressional Research Service, who works exclusively for the United States Congress, providing policy and legal analysis to committees and Members of both the House and Senate states, “ In FY [fiscal year]1980, Congress appropriated $330.0 million for the BOP. By FY2014, the total appropriation for the BOP reached $6.859 billion.” This means that our country is way out of proportions with funding for prisons, and due to the “burgeoning federal prison population” has increased financial needs. Something needs to be done to both reduce the budget that is needed for the BOP and reduce the population of federal prisons.

The future state of the correctional system in this country is of great importance to me, as it should be to the rest of Americans. I intend to pursue a career in Criminal Justice, as a forensic lab technician, and I feel that if nothing is done soon to repair the issues our correctional system has, it will be too late for me, or anyone else to reverse the effects it has on our country. This is why I call to my government and legislature to step up: stop privatizing contracts for prisons, end harsh mandatory sentencing, slow down the progress on the War on Drugs, and focus more on reformation and rehabilitation of the country’s prison population. Our goal should be to release clients of the criminal justice system who can become fully functioning members of society, who are able to move past a life of crime.