prison, where the environment might worsen their conditions. Proof: there are more mentally ill people in prison than there are in actual psychiatric hospitals (The Brennan Center for Justice, 2016). Of course, since prisons aren’t psychiatric hospitals, they can’t deal with these sick people. They just store them there until their sentences are up, and then they throw them out onto the streets. The majority of prisoners haven’t actually been convicted of a crime yet. Usually, they’re waiting for their trial date, and are too poor to post bond. Kris Steele, former Oklahoma Speaker of the House, says that “jail has become a debtor’s prison… this is immoral and unconstitutional.” And then when they do get convicted, some are actually expected to pay the price of staying in jail.
In the Oklahoma County jail, for example, prisoners who are released are actually expected to pay a bill, as if they were staying at a hotel on vacation instead of sitting in a prison cell. (Huffington Post, 2016) Another thing that happens when an individual is released from prison is that they can never really be a part of society. There are over 40,000 collateral consequences for people that go through the criminal justice system.
Questions like, “have you ever been convicted of a felony?” prevent them from getting a job, a house, food stamps. In some cases, they can’t even vote. There needs to be a system in which, once one repays their debt to society, they can move on from what they did. (Huffington Post, 2016)So how can we fix the problem of mass incarceration? We’ve established that standing by and letting all these people rot in jail is un-American and that we need to improve our criminal justice system.
First and foremost, the system must be reformed to have different responses to different situations. It can’t have the same sentence for a variety of crimes; not only is that uncreative, but it’s also unfair. Why should a person caught with a tiny amount of weed go to jail for the same amount of time as a bona fide drug dealer? So, just like a bicycle has different gears for different terrains, the justice system must be the same way with gears of treatment and prevention. (Sentencing Project, 2016) America must also shift its attention and resources to social service programs. People suffering from addiction and/or mental illnesses shouldn’t be sitting in a prison cell; they must be treated. Instead of investing all that money on keeping these people in prison, America could give some of it to build treatment centers around the country to help these people. Then we reduce the existing prison population by giving prisoners who have proven themselves worthy of re-entering society the opportunity to transition out of confinement.
It’s totally possible to shrink the number of people in prison and protect the citizens at the same time. Parole/probation systems need to be modernized so that those who are actual threats are the ones who are monitored. People who need mental help and/or drug treatment should receive it so that they can avoid committing more crimes and be able to return to society. (ACLU, 2016) Fixing the problem of mass incarceration seems like a daunting task when you look at the numbers, but it is possible to start working towards a solution.
The government, its constitution, and its citizens have to understand the overall impact of a broken system on our communities. Like any problem, it must first be recognized, and then the solutions will fall in place. At a community level, there are already have programs in place, like mental health and drug courts, social services, community service, and parole/probation systems. But these programs must be taken to the national level by putting more funds and effort into them. By utilizing the solutions suggested above, it is possible to move away from a culture of mass incarceration and towards mass rehabilitation.