04 Mar Overcrowded Prisons
Overuse of imprisonment is an endemic issue around the world. The human rights violation due to this is exceptionally egregious in the United States. With an imprisonment rate five to ten times that of other western governments, the United States prisoners account for one-quarter of the global prison community. Indeed, the U.S. imprisons more people—in absolute numbers and per capita—than any nation in the world, including the far more populated China, which grades second, and Russia, which ranks third. What should be the priority order for Government? Filling prisons or providing a suitable rehabilitation opportunity to the criminally inclined citizens!
News reports flashed in the country when former President Barack Obama had awarded clemency to 273 federal inmates. Most of these prisoners were serving sentences for drug-related petty crimes. The second opportunity for these inmates was celebrated by many and, on the other hand, critics termed this move outrageous and a threat to public safety. President Obama stated that the U.S. criminal justice system is not as ingenious as it should be and is not as straightforward as it should be regarding fair sentencing – especially when it comes to drug offenses.
Proponents believe that by releasing non-violent drug offenders, the prisons are relieving some of the overcrowding and making room for violent offenders. The relief also saves the taxpayers money as each inmate, if healthy, burdens taxpayers anywhere from $31,286 to $60,000 per year varying on the location. Other concrete feedback comes out of California. In 2011, the Supreme Court of California directed 30,000 inmates to be freed because of overcrowding. The Public Policy Institute of California and Stanford University conducted studies which showed that violent crimes did not increase after the early release of these inmates and only 1.3 percent of those early released inmates turned into repeat offenders.
Opponents believe that the immediate release of many such inmates can result in missing important information in an inmate’s criminal history. There is the likelihood of past domestic violence or weapons charges being neglected. Prior preparation, enough public safety staff, and a working model must be in place to ensure community protection. We cannot allow people who have broken a common law to integrate into society until they have recognized their mistakes and are willing to make a change.
Leaving prison early or in a sudden rush can create psychological effects on many prisoners. The movie “Shawshank Redemption,” although just a film, correctly portrayed the stress placed on inmates freed into society after long years of incarceration. Many inmates fail to manage the pressure alone and need counseling and direction via a slow release program. Several of them will need support with finding housing, employment, receiving a driver’s license and new birth certificate and social security cards. All of this must be considered carefully.
The First Step Act, which legislated with overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats, takes reasonable steps to reconstruct the federal criminal justice system and promote very punitive prison punishments at the federal level. Primarily, the law provides thousands of people to earn an earlier discharge from prison and could cut many more prison sentences in the future. The First Step Act faced intense debate on Capitol Hill over what type of inmates would be desirable for its programs. Some conservative lawmakers opposed the plan all the way up to its congressional passage claiming that it didn’t take enough precautions to prevent violent offenders from getting out.
At present, the legislation signed by President Donald Trump made significant revisions to the treatment and rehabilitation of low-level federal prisoners. Qualifying Inmates — mostly people who have performed low-level drug offenses — can receive credits to be released from prison early and complete the rest of their sentence in home confinement or halfway houses if they engage in the plan’s anti-recidivism programs such as job training, education, and faith-based classes. There are approximately 180,000 current federal prisoners, according to the Bureau of Prisons, which refused to comment on which facilities would be affected.
So many determinants of the issue make it troublesome to decide whether non-violent prisoners should be released. What are your thoughts? Should non-violent prisoners be released from jail to reduce overcrowding?