5 Disturbing Facts That'll Change The Way You Think About American Prisons


The prison industry is constantly under siege. The nature of modern American prisons is so far detached from the auspices of which they were created that they cannot fairly be justified any longer. What was once, at least in promise, a place for rehabilitation and education to the betterment of society is now a warehouse network of for-profit enterprises. Capitalism's worst characteristics are on display in the modern prison system and really should make a person question the integrity and morality of the United States as a nation.

1. Largest prison population in the world.

Statistics of prison populations in the United States are mindboggling.

The United States has the largest prison population in the world, by far. American prisons have more than half a million more prisoners than China. Per capita, the United States is second only to island nation Seychelles and has a huge lead over Russia, the next closest major country. Let it sink in for a moment that the United States houses more prisoners than China, Iran, Russia and every other country that are demonized for having supposedly bad human rights records.

What does it say about where society is and where it is headed when prison populations have increased by 790 percent since 1980, yet crime in most every category has reduced or stayed the same since 1980?  One-third of Americans have a criminal record and one in 31 Americans are currently in some type of custody. This conveys the message that America seems to have a lot of warehouse and storage space for human souls.

2. Unnecessary penalties lead to lost faith in system.

Disproportionate sentences and seemingly biased treatment have grown in number on an unprecedented scale. Based on the Portland State study, nearly 50 percent of inmates are serving time for drug offenses, significantly more than for violent crimes. When it comes to cocaine, much harsher sentences are given to crack than to powder cocaine offenses. Also, 66 percent of crack users are white or hispanic, while 82 percent of those convicted of federal crack offenses are black. That just screams bias.

If a guy steals $5.00 worth of snacks from a convenience store, does he deserve a death sentence?  In a case of stark reality of overadherance to policy, Jamycheal Mitchell had a long history of mental health issues, schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder. He was put on a months-long waitlist for an open bed in a psych unit. While awaiting a determination whether he was fit to stand trial, he was kept in a jail cell. Without a conviction, this is basically the equivalent of storing someone in a locker. After four months, Mitchell was dead in jail.

Thousands of similar cases across the country happen regularly. The ultimate problem is that prisons, as well as police in general, are ill-equipped to deal with mental health crises. Basic understanding is that it is not productive to keep people in jail when the crime doesn't merit a long sentence. Particularly, if the person hasn't even been found guilty or received a sentence, they should not be automatically locked into a cell. Such irresponsibility does no good for the person's rehab or society in general. There is talk of “compassionate releases” but usually only when the prisoner is in poor health. If the system truly felt compassion, it wouldn't create such a heartless dilemma.

For the want of a Mountain Dew, Snickers and Zebra cake a life was lost. Undoubtedly, any life has more value than that. It can only be assumed that the justice system doesn't value human life when such injustices occur repeatedly.

3. Prisons are not rehabilitative, thus making prisoners more dangerous.

Skills that a person learned prior to entering prison don't translate well to modern society when they are finally released years later. It's rough being able to do a job, even if a person can actually get hired in the first place. Housing is hard to get, even if a person is not dangerous. Many ex-cons are alone because friends and/or family are gone, may even be in prison themselves or have moved on with their lives and don't want to associate with the labeled “criminal” of the family. Prison can cause mental health issues or exacerbate trauma for those who have pre-exsiting mental problems.

When there is no individual treatment, this is all a recipe for high recidivism and unsafe societies overall. Different types of inmates require different resources and strategies for getting out and being a productive member of society. Society needs to help itself by finding solutions rather than putting issues out of sight and out of mind.

4. Corrupt authorities undermine the system.

What happens when people in the criminal justice system do criminal activities? This is the biggest way to undermine the system.

This particular example is of crime lab failures. Forensic analysts Sonja Farak and Annie Dookhan are two among numerous officials who, on numerous occasions, used confiscated drugs for their own consumption and tampered with evidence, for at least a decade. Their own activities affected sentences of more than 45,000 people and had many convicts released after the truth was finally told. Compared to people that get rung up on drug charges, an 18-month penalty for drug offenses and having others wrongfully imprisoned for years seems awfully light.

Here is a great example of a dereliction of duty that casts much doubt on the competence level in the use of science and technology and in prosecution of supposed convicts. How well can a society prove what they think they know? How many people have wrong evidence pinned on them to save someone else's skin? This is beyond troubling.

5. Inconsistent standards may be favoritism or racism at work.

It is relatively meaningless to have precedents when they are not followed.

In April, Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Stanford student Brock Turner to six months for sexually assaulting an unconscious female student behind a trash dumpster on campus. The defense had pressed for a three year sentence and public outcry concerned favoritism in play. Public sentiment hit a higher note, when in June, Judge Persky sentenced a Latino man to three years in jail for sexually assaulting his female roommate.

At a time when the nation is on super-sensitive standing concerning minorities, it is rather haphazard to apply non-harmonious sentences. It creates a decided imbalance in public perception making more violence and protesting more likely to break up what criminal justice system that actually works.

There have been increased calls for Persky's removal from the bench and public outcry versus Persky went even higher when he was actually removed from a case after jurors found the judge to be a hardship. When an injustice in justice is so apparently obvious to everyone, it only begs the question of how many sentences are undue and how much jail space is being used for the further detriment of public safety and race relations.

A reworking of social justice system that many believe is flawed due to its for-profit nature needs to revert to true justice and accountability. For starters, the glaring holes that America needs serious and immediate help on are having a prison rate that reflects the crime rate, penalties need to fit the crime, officials and authorities need to be held to the same standards as the more traditional criminals, and there needs to be a big increase in rehabilitative and community integration efforts. Until giant leaps are taken, the United States can have little right fighting wars to impose “justice” on other countries and should not be taken seriously as a world leader when we are not leading, not making lives better.