The Current Correctional System in America
If you commit a crime in the USA chances are high that you will become a part of the correctional system. Judging from the name, its main responsibility is supposed to be making you better, help you eliminate your flaws and make you a better citizen. But is it really so? Is it a system that corrects people or is it just a sophisticated name given to a punitive at its core organization? Does it succeed in one of its main tasks – prevention of further crime? Personally I think that correctional system has failed America in many ways and it is ineffective. In this paper I aim at supporting my point of view with pieces of evidence and analyze why a country with such a complex and sophisticated legal system, such a variety of penitentiary institutions and such democratic laws fails to lead its citizens away from the slippery slope.
Overview of Correctional System in America
In the 18th century “The Land of The Free” was one of the most innovative countries in terms of dealing with criminals. Corporal punishment and torture, still widely used in Europe, were substituted by more humane method – creation of correctional institutions. Primarily, they were established as places in isolation from society where a person would spend time contemplating about committed bad deeds (Incarceration Nation, 2014). At least it was supposed to be like this. Its purpose remains more or less the same but for some reasons it fails to fulfill its aim. With more than two million people serving time in prisons, jails and facilities for juvenile offenders, America seems to have over fulfilled the task.
Starting from the 1960s American prison population has increased dramatically – more than two million people are serving time in prison at the moment. Another unhealthy and perturbing trend is the growth of women inmate population and juvenile delinquents. According to different estimates, African Americans, who comprise 13 percent of total American population, make up from 40 to 60 percent of overall prison residents (McElwee, 2013 ). In the country so notoriously known for slavery and segregation, this kind of statistics is worrying
Incarceration rates in America are outrageously high and partly it isn’t because of crimes committed, but due to the specificity of legal system and its innovations over several decades. Firstly, ongoing war on drugs increased the quantity of non-violent offenders dramatically. Secondly, laws about mandatory minimum sentences and repeated offences made sentences for people behind bars even lengthier (McElwee, 2013). Moreover, it is now extremely expedient to promote harsher punishments if you are running in political elections.
At the moment American citizens who are undergoing correction fall into three main categories – those in prison, on probation and on parole. The last two are serving the most correctional function. But there are still many cases when instead of putting person on probation or releasing on parole judges decide to put him behind bars. Correctional facilities in the USA are roughly subdivided into jails and prisons, the former being institutions governed by local cities and counties that include people who serve short sentences, and the latter being institutions governed by the state or federal government with inmate serving longer sentences (Incarceration Nation, 2014). There are several main types of prisons in America, in particular: juvenile detention facility, minimum, medium and high security prisons, psychiatric prisons, immigration-detention prisons, military prisons, federal and state prisons (Incarceration Nation, 2014).
Ineffectiveness of American Correctional System
In my opinion, the correction system in the United States is highly ineffective because of several reasons. Firstly, recidivism rate is extremely high. Offenders who come out of prison are usually ostracized by their family and friends, looked down on by the majority of people and, most of the time segregated. Especially it concerns job market. An ex-inmate is obliged to indicate his or her criminal record while applying for a job and most probably may be rejected as a candidate because of his prison time. Although penitentiary institutions are supposed to correct a person and make him a better citizen, they just widen the gap between this individual and other members of society.
Secondly, a lot of inmates suffer from sexual violence and rape in prison and it doesn’t go unnoticed. This is obviously not the only traumatizing experience they have – they may suffer from being beaten by furious guards, can be kept in solitary confinement and live in claustrophobic enclosed spaces with limited access to the outside world for years. All of these and many other experiences contribute to the fact that many ex-prisoners need some post prison counseling. Not only are they “not corrected” but also emotionally ruined.
Thirdly, a significant percentage of offenders are juvenile delinquents from poor backgrounds. The fact that they are put in prison after committing a misdemeanor has a lasting effect on their lives. Instead of learning from teachers they are accountable to probation officers, instead of gaining a degree they receive criminal records, and instead of sitting in a class they are continuously drawn to court trials. They come back from detention centers disappointed and enraged at the system and their childhood can’t be rewritten. Their lives are marked by the time spent in prison. And they are likely to reoffend.
Finally, there are many states that deprive ex-inmates from possibility to vote. This basic human right that makes you a part of a community and gives you a chance to create democracy doesn’t seem to be important until it is lost. In a country that positions itself as the land of the free and the crib of democracy it is inhumane to continue ex-prisoners’ segregation in such a way.
Better Correctional System in America Can Become a Reality
If correctional system in America continues to ignore its growing problems it may inadvertently lead to a collapse and the government can’t allow such a blunder to happen. The United States are in urgent need of a Prison Reform that must eliminate recidivism and reduce traumatization as well as change the length of prison sentences.
Firstly, in order for prison population not to grow it is vital to decrease the recidivism rate. This can be achieved by accepting ex-convicts back into society. It can be accomplished by allowing non-violent inmates to see their families on weekends as a reward for good behavior. Another way to do this may be through education – a huge quantity of people in prison are high-school or college drop outs. However trite it may sound, education is the foundation for the future and no person should be deprived from having it.
Secondly, a lot of ex-inmates become homeless and jobless upon returning to normal life and these two factors may force them to resort to crime. For the sake of their reintegration into the society it is vital for them to learn some skill while they are in prison. Penitentiaries have to promote some kind of labor, whether it is cooking or tool making.
One more possible solution may be to shorten the length of a prison sentence. Fighting with crime by means of putting a person behind bars forever doesn’t make him a better individual – it just enrages him and makes him even more dangerous for the society upon his release. Government has to consider substitution of imprisonment by fines in case of non-violent offences. This may reduce traumatizing effects of penitentiaries, especially on juvenile offenders.
Finally, I’d like to point out that people who spent time in prison and learned to survive and coexist with others were taught a lesson in ingenuity behind bars. Whether they were organizing tattoo saloons or barbers shops, creating delicious meals from leftovers or making weights for powerlifting – everything they learned may and should be applied in their life after prison (Lessons in Business, 2012). A lot of inmates have a business thread nobody would ever suspect them to have. But after getting out of penitentiaries they quickly forget about ingenuity that helped them to survive behind bars because society isn’t helping them to turn it into enterprise. What I mean is that we have to assist ex-inmates in developing their business talents and in this way we may have some certainty that they will not offend again.