By Neglecting Prisoners, We’re Dehumanizing Ourselves

“When we allow the government to be willfully indifferent to the people in its care, that indifference carries over to everyone else in our nation. By neglecting prisoners, we’re dehumanizing ourselves.”

Too many nonviolent criminals who were no threat were being imprisoned and given little chance to reform and re-enter mainstream society.

What this does to children is deplorable. In America, “2.7 million children have a parent behind bars—one in every 28 children (3.6 percent) has a parent incarcerated, up from one in 125 just 25 years ago. Two-thirds of these children’s parents were incarcerated for non-violent offenses.”  (Western)

According to recent estimates (Mumola, 2000), nearly 3.6 million parents are under some form of correctional supervision, including parole. Of these parents, almost 1.1 million are incarcerated in federal, state, or local jails. These parents have an estimated 2.3 million children. Alarmingly, the rate of parental incarceration has gone up sharply in the last decade. In 1991, there were 452,500 parents in state and federal prisons, with 936,500 minor children. By 2000, the number of parents in prisons had nearly doubled to 737,400, and the number of children affected rose by over a third to 1,531,500 (Mumola, 2001). Although the absolute numbers have increased, however, the percentage of state and federal prisoners with minor children has not changed over this time period. In 1991, 57% of prisoners had minor children; in 2000, 56% were in the same situation. Moreover, the increase in parents who became prisoners (63%) was similar to the rate of growth for non-parental prisoners (69%)  a finding that suggests that being a parent is not necessarily a protective factor in reducing the chances of incarceration.

Unfortunately, although such programs exist, information about which approaches – if any  are most effective is limited. A variety of problems characterize research in this area. The major problems include the lack of comparison groups, failure to carry out systematic evaluations of the impact of the interventions, use of non-standardized measurement instruments, and limited follow-up to assess the long-term effects of the intervention.

Louisiana has the nation’s highest incarceration rate. But this week, Gov. John Bel Edwards struck a deal to reduce sentences and the prison population, saving millions annually.


If lawmakers approve the changes, Louisiana will be following more than 30 states, including Georgia, Texas and South Carolina, that have already limited sentences; expanded alternatives to incarceration, such as drug treatment; or otherwise reduced the reach and cost of the criminal justice system. Many of those states say they have saved money while crime rates have stayed low.

Mr. Sessions’s approach conflicted with one of the few major points of bipartisan national agreement over the past decade: that criminal justice could be more effective by becoming less punitive to low-level offenders; treating root causes of crime, like drug addiction; and reserving more resources to go after serious, violent criminals.

What are the goals of retribution?
Two main purposes underlie all criminal punishments. The first is retribution, which punishes the crime because it’s fair and right to do so. Retribution is backward-looking and can be remembered as an ‘eye for an eye.’ The second is prevention, which punishes wrongdoers in order to prevent future crimes.

Theories of punishment can be divided into two general philosophies: utilitarian and retributive. The utilitarian theory of punishment seeks to punish offenders to discourage, or “deter,” future wrongdoing. The retributive theory seeks to punish offenders because they deserve to be punished.

 Today though many claim that the decision to plea out and accept a guilty plea and sentence because in today’s law system Plea deals are plentiful.  The incarcerated will plea out if they have been sitting in jail for months waiting on a trial and just want their nightmare to end as quickly as possible regardless if they are guilty or not.  Some have sat in jail for up to four years waiting to see the Judge for bail or sentence. They say the courts failed them for not giving them a fair bail hearing because bail was set too high for them to afford. They also said that our court system has lost it’s way even before trial as their names are plastered all over the TV and newspapers and in today’s reasoning the general public treats everyone arrested as a truth fact, and always guilty so forget the innocent before proven guilty rhetoric.

Once incarcerated the annual average taxpayer cost in these states was $31,286 per inmate. New York State was the most expensive, with an average cost of $60,000 per prison inmate. The cost of incarcerating people in New York City’s jails is nearly three times as much.

The state prison population has grown 700% nationwide since the 1970s. The 40 states surveyed by this study spent $39 billion on maintaining their prisons in 2010. That is $5.4 billion more than their total reported corrections budgets for that year.

In (2009) the Department evaluated the effectiveness of the DTU program and claimed they reduced an inmate’s risk of re-offending by about 13%. At the time, that made drug treatment the most effective rehabilitation program in the entire prison system. There are now nine DTUs but since then, their effectiveness has declined dramatically. The Department’s Annual Report for 2015, shows they now reduce re-offending by only 5%.

As one person put it in the comment section…

“The prison system is not designed to rehabilitate. The Psychological Services arm of Corrections has been steadily eroded by mismanagement.”

I have to say that if something works leave it alone but unfortunately this is not the case in our prison system. I totally agree a lot depends on whom is running the prison. 

Another comment…

“New released inmates are highly likely to return to prison within a short time because they are easy targets for police who have no hesitation in fitting them up for any crime they choose. Whilst I was inside I met guys who deliberately re-offended to get back inside because trying to survive on the outside on WINZ benefits was impossible whilst being constantly hounded by police and corrections staff. Businesses depend on repeat customers to survive and our Prison System is no different.”

In general, prison should have five goals, as described by criminologist Bob Cameron: retribution, incapacitation, deterrence, restoration, and rehabilitation. In his words though, “Americans want their prisoners punished first and rehabilitated second.”

Few citizens in Norway go to prison, and those who do usually go only once. So how does Norway accomplish this feat? The country relies on a concept called “restorative justice,” which aims to repair the harm caused by crime rather than punish people. This system focuses on rehabilitating prisoners.

Norway had  3,717 prisoners in 2014 in 2016 they had 3,874 but this includes pre-trial detainees / remand prisoners) Norway’s population is 5,325,695

The United States has a population of 326,474,013 and the prison population was a staggering 2,220.300 in 2013. That is 716 per 100,000 of the national population. The immigration detention system took in 440,600 people during the course of 2013. Which is not counted with the regular citizen prison population. While the United States represents about 4.4 percent of the world’s population, it houses around 22 percent of the world’s prisoners. The highest in the world.

Today the American criminal justice system holds more than 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 942 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, and 79 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories.

In the US it is different once you are incarcerated your life is forever turned upside down.  In many states when you get out you lose voting rights, you are blocked from getting certain jobs and even though you serve time in Prison you still have to pay the probation officer for up to years after leaving prison.  You are forever marked with a “P” that follows your everyday moves and that puts you at the mercy of just one human being for which lets face it, either likes you or not.  You are forever paying your debt to society. It doesn’t end there either.  You become a target of the police department and the corrections staff.  Now add to this too depending on the crime you could also be a target by a few people in your neighborhood as well. Many websites on the Internet that dealt with prisoners reformed, or probation paroled etc all had similar stories to tell.

I do believe in punishment and I also believe that our prisons serve a purpose that is useful. But our prisons go overboard.  Our Justice system goes overboard as well.  There is a difference between punishment and abuse and the US abuses the system and the prisoners.  Especially our youth and those waiting for trial.

For our youth 7,200 can be locked up at any time for reasons that are not even considered a crime in the US.

To be more like Norway the US would have to change how they think about prison as in no criminal has a choice about what to do, so all should be treated as victims of their circumstances. This would eliminate retributive punishment in the US, and perhaps make our system more like Norway’s. In the US many in Prison are there because of their circumstances at home.  Poverty is the number one reason for crime in the US.  When you stifle the community by paying low wages, having schools that don’t meet the expectations of Colleges and then raise the bills like College, Healthcare, rent, and Utilities this in itself will cause the people to do the unimaginable in order to survive.  It causes people to steal and sell drugs, or use drugs to numb the effect of their dire surroundings. The US prisons are full of incarcerated drug offenders and thief’s. Dire circumstances on the outside mean that prison looks like a good alternative.  Because the US does have a retributive punishment standard they are setting the people up to to be prisoners for up to life and they have given prisoners no alternatives for life on the outside of prison walls because of the mistreatment of individuals outside the walls of prison. In the US punishment is supposed to fit the crime, retributive justice can be distinguished from revenge in the sense that defendants are expected to give up something in return for the offenses they committed. But are they supposed to give up everything on the outside?  A good job, voting privileges, healthcare, education, and the list goes on.

Being put among hardened criminals in a soul-sapping prison simply makes people more likely to commit crimes after release, while rehabilitation, aimed at getting inmates jobs and adjusting their attitudes, will reduce both recidivism and the crime rate. But you have to change the world of surviving outside the walls of prisons as well or nothing you do will change that much in the US.

A few states have already started to change their justice laws to less prison and more rehab.

“The states that have most significantly reduced their prison population have also seen the biggest drops in their crime and recidivism rates,” said Holly Harris, a former general counsel of the Kentucky Republican Party who is now executive director of the U.S. Justice Action Network.

“Reform makes us safer,” Ms. Harris said. “There’s a misperception with prosecutors that somehow reform is anti-law enforcement, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

I tend to believe though the prosecutors are more worried about their jobs than they are of the men and women that go through the court rooms.  As seen from many websites a majority set up their trials in the manner their constituents wanted.  For which was to lock up even more people. Get the guilty off the streets!  But isn’t this the job of  prosecutors?  We can’t blame them for doing their job can we?  

Cat Burglar

So we have to look on what caused all of this in the first place which was the war on drugs. Then we add to this mix the misdemeanor crimes that the public was sick of dealing with. Now add the repeat offenders.  Plus the crimes against women, children, the disabled. Plus all of the hate crimes that have gone through the roof that you rarely see in the newspapers or on media today.  What really caused all of this?  Granted population growth helped but we have other countries that are not locking them up as fast as the US is.

Further, almost all convictions are the result of plea bargains.

You can’t blame those sitting in our jails for accepting pleas. They accept them because most jails in the US are overcrowded and the waiting list is very long.  So that means they sit in a jail cell for months waiting for their day in Court.  Regardless if they are guilty or not they accept them because the Justice System let them down.  They accept them because they have already lost everything. Their freedom and jobs is number one and two.  Number three is the loss of property and sometimes they even lose their children if they have any. The war on drugs was just the precursor that added the right effect to the mix. 

So Plea Deals are the number one reason why our prisons are over crowded.

We have to accept that the prison overcrowding is our own making.   Then we have to find a way to fix it for everyone.  Not just for the Justice Department or those incarcerated but both.

(PDF)  Thanks goes to MBisanz for use of his image Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

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