Guy O. New Jersey

The Issue with Incarceration

20% of all incarcerated people are in for drug offenses, most of which are non-violent

Dear Future President:

One issue that I feel should be your priority is the reform of our prison system. Currently, blacks make an approximately equal proportion of the US prison population to whites (about 40%), while only occupying 13% percent of the population compared to our 40% white population. There are too many blacks in prisons for it to be simply because blacks are more likely to commit crimes than whites, which is statistically not true. The reason more blacks are in prison is because they are more likely to be convicted of a crime and have a higher retention rate. It is not more likely for a black person to commit a crime, but it is more likely for a black person to be arrested and convicted of a crime and to be put in prison for longer than his initial sentence.

The root of this problem can be attributed to two things: discrimination at the police level and laws that are unfavorable to blacks. While there is nothing a single person, even the president, can do to change the sentiment of police toward blacks, it should be harder for police officers to act violently against or wrongfully detain African Americans for crimes that if committed by a white person, does not have the same consequences, or at least not to the same extent. This feeling of authority that police have should only be present to some extent. The police work for the people, and it is for the people to judge whether our cops are doing a good job or doing a bad job. For this reason, it would help if all police officers would be required to wear some sort of body cam to monitor them while they are on duty in order for them to know they are being watched and their actions will be thoroughly observed. It is possible with today's technology and it wouldn't be that expensive, but it will save the judicial system a lot of time and effort if they had access to police officer’s point of view. Also, it will deter officers of the law from committing unethical or wrong acts against all people.

But one thing that the president can change is the law. While the United States represents about 4.4 percent of the world's population, it houses around 22 percent of the world's prisoners. There is a law that marijuana, a drug that has clinically confirmed medical use and has proven to be a safe and non lethal alternative to other recreational substances, is scheduled as a deadly narcotic with no recognized medical use. 20% of all people in prison are in for drug offenses, most of which are non-violent. This law prevents many to practice their recreational and medical use of marijuana and causes the possession and use of it to be a criminal act. Despite blacks and whites having roughly the same rate of marijuana use, black people are significantly more likely to be arrested for the drug. This disproportional arresting of blacks, as well the established stigma against people who use pot, is damaging to black communities.

No one should be arrested for nonviolent use of a recreation substance, especially if the substance hurts the user much less than legal substances, such as alcohol. But due to this scheduling, law enforcement is given the opportunity to criminalize marijuana smokers, and when someone is caught smoking weed who is black, they will be less hesitant to accuse that person of dealing the drug or possessing it for criminal purposes as opposed to whites in the same predicament.

An executive order normalizing marijuana, making it a non-illegal substance, can help fix all of this. Not only will it alleviate the flow of blacks to prisons, but it will leave it to the states to decide on their own marijuana laws. It could be taxed and regulated, like how it was done in Colorado, and can potentially have an overall benefit to society by reducing pot use among the youth and bringing tax funds that can go back to schools and communities.


Guy O.