Prison overcrowding has been a continuous problem within our prison system, and a solution has yet to be assured. The amount of prisoners incarcerated behind bars has to be reduced and these changes will affect sentencing, and ultimately our society. Overcrowding at federal prisons is seriously jeopardizing the safety and security of guards and inmates. The ratio of guards to inmates is at about ten to one, and this is a major security risk for the correctional officers. Meanwhile, inmates are becoming hostile and violent because of current conditions in the prisons that force them to sleep on triple layer bunk beds and on floors in corridors. Alternatives to incarceration should be made in order to decrease the inclining number of prisoners, instead of having more prisons built.
So a general question on this tough issue is, why has the prison population risen tremendously within the past few decades? As a starting point, in the early 1970’s, the massive amount of crime in the United States concerned the public’s safety, which led to action being taken among legislators. “Some state governments began to construct new prison facilities and pass legislation mandating lengthy jail sentences for criminals,” according to Facts on File News Services(July 2009). Prison populations slowly began to grow as legislators kept passing “tough on crime” laws. In 1973, beginning in New York, Rockefeller drug laws came into play. These laws demanded judges to give out harsh prison sentences for drug possession, trafficking or use.
The United States incarceration rate has steadily increased due to enforcement of nationwide drug laws and tougher sentencing procedures. The great debate over prison overcrowding has lead to someone either being a supporter of tough sentencing, or an opponent. Supporters of tough sentencing believe that harsh punishment will discourage people from wanting to commit these crimes, meanwhile keeping our streets safer. They say more prisons should be built to accommodate the rising number of inmates within our prisons. On the other hand, opponents of tough sentencing believe alternatives to incarceration should be used to curb the prison population. They say the system was responsible for putting an exorbitant amount of non-violent offenders behind bars, meanwhile forcing states and the federal government to grapple with the task of constructing new prisons on limited budgets. According to Gregory Anthony, “the utmost visible reform would be to stop locking up so many people and start releasing those non-violent offenders.” Now, a primary problem that has been presented is the increasing length of time served in prison. The United States has the highest prison population in the industrialized world, and this is an outrage! According to Marc Mauer, “time served in state prison rose from 22 months to 29 months from 1990 to 1999.” Sentencing policies for crimes committed in the U.S are way too lengthy, in comparison with those from neighboring countries. Conviction in the United States for selling a kilogram of heroine is a mandatory ten year sentence; while in an England prison it would be a six month sentence. In the United States, burglary is a sixteen month sentence, whereas in England, it is a six month sentence. Time served should be lessened in the U.S., a start in the prevention of the dehumanization of our fellow Americans.
Another factor in the growth of the inmate population is the “Three Strike law”. The Three Strike law significantly increases the prison sentences of any person convicted of felonies who have been previously convicted of a violent or serious felony, and limits the ability of these offenders to receive a punishment other than a prison sentence. Recently, offenders being put back behind bars following the Three Strike law procedure, offense were either a probation violation or a non-violent offense, such as drug use. In line with Gregory Anthony, “stopping the overzealous...
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