Jails and Prisons in US essay

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The United States of America, among other things, boasts of being the world’s best economy; it is ahead in several aspects of life and also is also regarded as the world’s best democratic nation. However, statistics show that America sends to prison the highest number of people compared to any other country in the world, even if to compare to India and China, which have a higher population than the US. It literally dwarfs other countries in terms of the population of prisoners and incarcerations. America has more than 2.3million individuals locked up in prisons, while China, which has a larger population, holds only 1.6 million people. These people include those held awaiting trial and those sentenced for offenses. If people on parole and probation are included in the statistics, then the number will shoot to about 7.3million citizens. Having 5% of the total population in the world, the United States locks up more than ¼ of the world’s total prisoners, that is, almost 25% of all individuals incarcerated. This happens because the smallest crimes in America could lead to a term in prison, where most of these crimes are not even punishable in several other countries. In addition, a person may be detained in jail while pending trial.

Incarceration rate is also very high in the US, making it the leading country in the world with more than 750 individuals sent to prison for every 100,000 persons. The nearest in the ranking is Russia, with an incarceration rate of 627; Japan has a lower rate with only 63, while England has an incarceration rate of 151 individuals per 100,000. This high numbers of prisoners or incarcerated people increase the US budget as it is costly to maintain the system. The system undergoes through unmatched growth globally every year, and the past decades have seen the system expand by more than 400% in number of correctional facilities and also prison population. This tremendous expansion has been stimulated by strict drug laws in the country, severe sentencing laws, and a relatively high rate of re-arresting, re-convicting, and re-imprisoning of a former offender. The number of people incarcerated for drug related crimes and offenses are well more than half a million individuals, ranking drugs as one of the top causes of the high number of incarcerated people.

The terms jail and prison are at times interchanged to mean the same thing. However, the two terms do not mean the same, and this usage is incorrect. Although they both serve to hold individuals who in one way or another committed an offense, jails are mostly used by the local jurisdictions, for example, cities, towns or counties to detain people for a short duration of time. In short, jails are places of incarceration that are operated locally. On the other hand, prisons or penitentiaries are run by the state and are mainly used in housing convicted criminals for long periods of time. They are advanced in several aspects like amenities and other complicated legal processes like work release programs or parole release.

History and Growth

The population of prisons in the United States began to expand late in the 1970s. This was because the various states and federal governments put in concentrated efforts in combating crime. For example, in 1973 the New York state declared compulsory sentencing laws for offenses associated with drugs, thereby making other states to administer similar laws. The program incorporated compulsory sentences for recurring armed professional criminals. The federal courts’ authority to shelve criminal sentences was repealed by the US congress in the 1984 Reform Act. Later, the minimum jail time for third time offenders with attached violent misdemeanor convictions was set at 25 years and a maximum of a life sentence. The US criminal justice policies adopted inflate the number of people incarcerated as they are very strict and thorough, particularly the sentencing laws concerning drugs. Since the beginning of the new millennium, the incarcerated population has been on a steady increase of about 15%, while the population of people in the country increased merely by 6.4%.

Since 1925 to 1975, the incarceration rates in US prisons were fairly flat, standing at 110 for every 100,000. However, as the war on drugs and drug related crimes increased, the rates started to rise dramatically, and during the last decade, federal incarcerations have increased by more than 45%. According to research, public order inmates (the category for those locked up for violations of weapons and immigration offenses) have the fastest growth at about 105%, whereas the population of those incarcerated for drug crimes last year grew by almost 33% and is expected to expand more this year following tougher sentencing laws on drugs and terrorism in the US.

Population of incarcerates in Federal Prison by most serious offenses

Offense

1980

 

1990

 

2000

 

2008

2009

2010

 

Share 2010

% Chg 2000-2010

                         

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TOTAL

  19,471

 

  56,989

 

 131,739

 

 182,333

 187,886

 190,641

 

100.0%

+44.7%

Violent  

6,572

 

9,557

 

13,740

 

15,483

15,010

14,830

 

7.8%

+7.9%

Property  

4,651

 

7,935

 

10,135

 

11,080

11,088

11,264

 

5.9%

+11.1%

Drug  

4,900

 

30,470

 

74,276

 

95,079

96,735

97,472

 

51.1%

+31.2%

Public-order  

2,040

 

8,585

 

32,325

 

59,298

63,714

65,873

 

34.6%

+103.8%

Other/unspecified  

1,308

 

442

 

1,263

 

1,394

1,339

1,203

 

0.6%

-4.8%

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