Catherine V. California

The Mass Incarceration System

Why does America have only 5% of the world's population, yet 22% of the world's incarcerated population? It's time to end the idea that "being tough on crime" means "being tough on criminals".

Dear Future President,

While some topics such as gun control, illegal immigration, abortion, etc. garner more attention, I’ve noticed a concerning lack of conversation on a significant, yet relatively unknown topic: Mass Incarceration. Criminals and convicts seem to be disconnected from our society, as they’re sentenced to years of life away from community, family, and friends. However, according to Amnesty International, America makes up 5% of the world’s population yet 22% of the world’s incarcerated population. Disturbingly, since 1980 the number of incarcerated individuals has increased by 400%, reaching 2.3 million people according to The Prison Policy Initiative. What can we possibly do to reform these astronomical numbers?

These institutions have their main goals: retribution, incapacitation, deterrence, and rehabilitation. Retribution consists of punishment for one’s crimes. Incapacitation consists of the removal of these criminals from society. Deterrence consists of deterring criminals and citizens from breaking the law. Finally, rehabilitation consists of reforming these criminals to inevitably release them into society again.

As someone who has never committed a crime, I can empathize with Americans who are comforted when the first ¾ of the goals are accomplished. However, we, as Americans, occasionally forget the last part of the puzzle. The thought of having a felon being a future neighbor, employee, acquaintance, etc. is troubling. Yet, our lack of pity for criminals is detrimental to society. Released and reformed felons have no easy, steady source of income, ineligibility for most affordable housing, and no insurance, which unfortunately leads to higher rates of suicide and homelessness amongst released felons, according to PyschCentral.

Part of the problem is the mentality on crime. According to Hank Green’s “Mass Incarceration in the US”, the political parties in the US thought that being tough on crime means being tough on criminals, and thus our incarceration system favored justice, rather than mercy; consequently, the rate of incarceration in the US has inflated. The reality nowadays is that taxpayers are paying $31,286 per year per prisoner according to The New York Times. According to CBS, our bad policy has left us in an eighty billion dollar bubble, a plan that has proved to be disturbingly short-sighted and ineffective. However, I cannot stress how this policy not only affects our wallets, but also lives, communities, and families.

I purpose new legislation should be passed, reforming our incarceration system. Shortening the sentences of non-violent, reformed convicts, inspecting the underlying racism that exists in our criminal justice system, and reviewing the class and education disparity in prisons are ways to reform our massively injudicious system. Locking up non-violent drug offenders to combat “The War on Drugs” has proven to be ineffective. So my last question is: What will you do to reform our incarceration system?


Catherine V.

Newbury Park High School

IB Lang & Lit HL 1 - Period 3B (Lilly)

Learning about language and literature in Newbury Park and the World!

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