The United States is known for being the home of the free, yet has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. How does this happen? Are the police too strict with the power they think they have? Do we have too many laws that people are unable to follow which then lead them to being trapped? After taking a deeper look into why the United States has such a high incarceration rate, it would seem that people make money off of prisoners. Prisons and jails can be privately owned and operated, thus making that person millions of dollars off of others shortcomings. Is this considered capitalism? There are so many questions that can be asked, but the real issue at hand is why these prisoners are not getting the proper treatment they need.
Once a prisoner gets released from prison, the state gives up on them. They open the doors and say, “You’re free to go.” Most of these people have nothing, so they will go back to a poverty stricken lifestyle that will most likely get them back into prison or jail. There is an unjust system upon us, yet nobody is doing anything about it, even though it is costing the citizens of the United States tax money. I believe that the United States needs to take a look into law enforcement and not give police officers so much power. Also, shortening the sentences of these “criminals” would give them a proper rehabilitation as well as break down the barriers of re-entering society. Throughout this paper I will look at the impact prison has on a person as well as that person’s family. First I will provide information and statistics about mass incarceration and the effects it has on a society. With further investigation into mass incarceration, there are obvious positive and negative effects it has on a community. It is also important to focus on individualism.
Next I will look at a single family, such as my own, and provide examples of how prison time affects not only the prisoner, but also the family. From a first hand view of what prison was like by speaking to a once-convicted felon, to an outsiders’ perspective whose sole goal is to lower recidivism, to a police chief with a job of keeping the streets clear of criminals and locking such people up. Lastly through interviews I will provide an argument for and against incarceration. At completion of this paper one will gain knowledge and be able to make an educated vote on the different propositions within your community. Statistics
It is critical to understand how our country has gotten to a place of embarrassment, having the highest incarceration rate of any country. According to Michael Snyder, more than 2.4 million people are behind bars. Since 1980, the number of people incarcerated in U.S. prisons has quadrupled. Approximately 12 million people cycle through local jails in the U.S. each and every year. More than half of state prisoners are serving time for nonviolent crimes, and one of every nine, or about 159,000 people, are serving life sentences — nearly a third of them without the possibility of parole” (Sakala & Wagner 2014). Additionally, 41 percent of all young people in America have been arrested by the time they turn 23 years old.
The amount of men that are incarcerated in comparison to women exceeds their numbers. An incredible 90 percent of the incarcerated individuals are men. The incarceration rate for an African American man in comparison to a white man is 6 times higher; this statistic is caused by the racial wealth gap. More and more women have to be both parents for the fact that 90 percent of the incarcerated are men. “2.7 million children are growing up in U.S. households in which one or more parents are incarcerated. Two-thirds of these parents are incarcerated for non-violent offenses, primarily drug offenses. One in nine black children have an incarcerated parent, compared to one in 28 Latino children and one in 57 white children” (Strong 2013). It is important to understand these statistics to have an educated opinion on the topic of mass incarceration. Personal effect
Most clichés can be boring and have no substance to them, but believe me when I say that prison doesn’t just affect the person locked up, it affects the whole family and household. This is a key issue that should be addressed when putting up a fight to end mass incarceration and the affect it has on children. “Imprisonment weakens or even eliminates the parental bond when their children’s mother or father abandon them “(Kruttschnitt 2005). When a child has a sense of abandonment, they search for acceptance in other areas of life. Some children and teenagers run to drugs, others to school, and for some sports. I was at an awkward age when my father got locked up; I was 17 years old, the age between being an adult and a child. I had many mixed feelings. As Kruttschnitt goes on to say, “Still for others, most often older offenders, prison provides a time for reflection and rebuilding relationships. This life course approach to imprisonment also appears in Nurse’s multi-method study of young fathers paroled under the jurisdiction of the California Youth Authority.”
For example, if an older father goes to prison and his son is older, it gives them both time for reflection and to learn about each other. I was stuck in a weird point in my life; right before I graduated high school when my father and brother both got sentenced to prison. To this day, 6 years later, both are out and turned their lives around, yet it is not so easy to fix all the issues from the past. My relationship with my father is rocky at best. His imprisonment gave us time to reflect, but I also needed him during that time in my life that he was not present. Many kids that are in this situation find something to fill the void, and for me it was playing golf. Effects Of Incarceration On A Family
Incarceration can be a good thing for some people; it can help them realize that they need to get their lives back on track. Most of the time, this happens to young people who do not have a family of their own. The dynamics change when a father or mother goes to prison. This is expressed well in Understanding Unique Effects of Parental Incarceration on Children: Challenges, Progress, and Recommendations. Johnson and Easterling say, “Parental incarceration has been associated with depressive symptoms, aggression, delinquency, criminal behavior, and social exclusion that persists into adulthood.” All of these issues are very important to consider, but the most important one to look at is criminal behavior. I learned many things by going and visiting my brother and father; most of which came from speaking to others that were they’re visiting their family members.
I recall many mothers saying, “Ever since their father went to prison, my children do nothing but cause trouble. It starts at school, then grows into bigger issues, now I am visiting them in jail.” It is veryimportant to loosen the amount of time that these “criminals” have to serve, especially for non-violent offenses. It is a trickle down affect; the parent goes to prison, the prisoner’s child, who is now missing a parent, is lacking attention, so they purposely get into trouble and find themselves right where their father or mother was. This behavior can continue for generations and generations. The reason that the United States has the highest incarceration rate is because of very strict laws and too much power given to police officers. Instead of trying to protect and keep the citizens safe, I feel that they try to ruin people’s days, thus putting more people in jail for a week, month, or even a year. Prisons are a different story; people in prison more often have committed felonies which takes away some of the rights as an American, one being to vote.
Why do these offenders end up back in prison? According to Keith Carson of the Post News Group, he says, “The Federal Court has determined that overcrowding is leading to inadequate care of inmates.” I believe this to be true, but how can we make sure that these men and women get adequate care? Proposal by Senator Steinberg provides performance-based grants to county drug and alcohol programs; and mental health programs that can document their success in keeping formally incarcerated people from returning to prison. The proposal also extends the deadline for reducing the prison population by three years and creates a panel to analyze and improve our sentencing laws (Carson 2013). This is a good idea, but it will cost more tax money to be injected into the system. A program like this is already in place, that being probation officers. We need to take a look into what these probation officers are doing as well and give them incentives for keeping the offenders from going back into jail or prison.
What are we, as taxpayers, trying to do to keep these people rehabilitated? Is it our job or is the states’ and counties job to make sure that these people are getting the proper treatment? Trying to get these men and women a job and re enter society is the hardest part of prison. More times than not when someone gets out, they have absolutely nothing and or no one to go to. They are stuck going back to what they know, living on the streets doing anything for money. When that happens, they are more likely to end up right back in prison. That is why it is important for them to try and find a job, and in the Post News, a staff writer speaks about paychecks for parolees. “Davis is part of a racially diverse crew of eight laborers that hits the roadsides of local Interstates 13, 980 and 880 to rid the highways of debris that accumulates during daily traffic commutation.
An intern’s attitude, attendance and other factors determine which candidates are selected to go out in the field. The positions pay $400 a week” (Writer 2012). This is a great opportunity for people in prison to show that they want to try and be successful after getting out of prison, but it starts while they are in. In order to get the job, they have to show that they are rehabilitated, and want to re-enter society successfully. A shocking statistic came out of this article, only 27 people have been successfully employed, 27 out of the greater bay area! That is a very low number considering there are over 10,000 men and women locked up in local jails and prisons’. To reform prisoners coming out of jail, we must look at what is happening inside the jails and prisons to fully understand what is actually going on.
Are inmates getting the proper treatment? Or are the correctional officers over exerting their power and showing their dominance? But it goes beyond the everyday level of physical discomfort for COs. The need to be hyper-vigilant, the defensive stance engendered by the institutionalized hostility of the prison power structure — “us” and “them”; the keepers and the kept — takes its toll not only on COs, but also on their families. Studies have shown that 31 percent of correctional officers meet “the criteria for full PTSD” (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder); that the average life expectancy is 58 years old, and that correctional officers have a 39 percent higher suicide rate than any other occupation (Chura 2014). This is a valid point that Chura brings up, if these officers are suffering from something how can they be the right people to rehabilitate others? In prison, there is a concept of us vs. them, but what if it was everyone working together to better them?
Yes, there are inmates that are almost untreatable because they do not want to change, and they need special attention, but the other 85% of inmates that want to change do not have the resources available for them to fully change. It doesn’t make sense, there are not many opportunities to work when in jail or prison, and if there is an opportunity it doesn’t pay enough to get things that are needed. This means someone on the outside needs to put “money on the books” for that person that is locked up. Little things such as making a phone call can cost approximately $15 (Abhat 2013). Being in prison or jail does not just affect the person that is in, but also the immediate family members and their friends because they can become a financial burden on a family. So again I ask, what are we doing to better the men and women in jail and prisons? The re-incarceration rate is a staggering 30 percent for first time offenders and 60 percent for multiple offenders that end up back in jail or prison. (Department of corrections 2014). Interviews
When looking at the effects that prison time has on an individual, I went directly to the source to someone that has served time. I interviewed Blake Favinger, my brother. He was very open and receptive to many questions. We discussed many things, from his take on mass incarceration, to how a correctional officer should conduct themselves, to the options that were presented to him to further his rehabilitation process. An interesting thing that caught my attention was when I asked him what they gave to be rehabilitated, from education to job opportunities, if they were looking out for his best interest, or just collecting a pay check. Blake’s answer was thoughtful when he said; “They gave me multiple options for both. I had to take classes for drug abuse and classes for job training. The teachers were there to help but I needed to show that I wanted help.”
The last part of that answer is so important to helping reduce the recidivism rate. Prisoners have to want to be rehabilitated; they cannot be forced to do so. When someone really realizes the effects that they put on others when they are locked up and see themselves for what they really are, accept it, and make changes is when rehabilitation starts to occur. When focusing in on the affects of a family member being in prison and how it could affect others, Favinger had a great look on it. “Yes I believe it has direct influence on any family member. I feel like it could be a positive influence to show them what not to do and become or it is showing them that it’s ok to get into trouble.” As Andrea Strong talks about in her article about the affects of a family member in prison, she goes on to say, “When a person gets sentenced to prison, the whole family serves the time.” This is spot on and I can speak from first hand because I was directly related when my father and brother went to prison. It has a direct effect on families, and mostly immediate families. From financial burdens to children asking questions of why, life can get very confusing.
Looking at mass incarceration and how it really happens, Andrea Strong speaks about her personal experience with the justice system. She speaks about a story of how her brother was involved in an arrest because he connected a marijuana dealer with a grower, got paid once, than stopped talking to them. Eventually those two got arrested, then they told the police about her brother and they convicted him. “I also learned that mandatory minimum sentencing laws do not take into account whether someone is a small time drug user or a major trafficker. The “minimum” sentences they establish are chosen out of thin air and reflect nothing but Congress’ sense of what sounds “tough.”” The laws in the United States are too hard on criminals, not hard on crime.
That is a mistake because its important to get that right, or else mass incarceration will occur. When something like this occurs, a family member can go to FAMM, which is Families Against Mandatory Minimums. This organization deals with the negative consequences of criminal punishments dictated by politicians in Washington, D.C., rather than local courts. To decrease mass incarceration, it is important that the government understands the affects of incarceration on not only the prisoner but also the family. Families Against Mandatory Minimums helps both violent and non-violent offenders; bring justice to what they did without making that person lose their whole life to a prison sentence. Opposing Argument
It is very interesting to speak and listen to someone that has been behind bars. One can learn so much information. Rehabilitation is such an attention-grabbing subject, like most everything; there are two sides to a story. Favinger makes many valid reasons to stop some of the incarceration. Laws need to be changed. I also had the pleasure to interview a police chief, who has some opposing views. Police chief Eric Hopley of Ontario Police Department. Police Chief Hopley started his law enforcement career with the Ontario Police Department in 1985. Prior to coming to Ontario, he served as a police officer with the Upland Police Department for two years. During his 20 years with the Ontario Police Department, Chief Hopley rose steadily through the ranks working every major division within the department. He was promoted to Captain in December 2003, to Deputy Chief in October 2005, and to Chief of Police on July 5th, 2009.
He is a very qualified individual that makes a lot of city and community effecting decisions. I would guess that most law enforcement individuals have the same view as Chief Hopley, and when I asked him why he thought mass incarceration has plagued the United States his answer was very interesting. I personally believe for two reasons, the first being the necessity for a “penalty” for certain miss-behaviors and/ or consequences to miss-behavior showing the communities/ population that certain behavior is not expectable. And second, the need to protect society from those who prey on victims. Understand that the United States is not that old as a nation and that during the “Wild West” era the thinking was “and eye for an eye” and this might affect some of the current thinking (Hopley 2014). Connection To Oakland
I would agree with his final statement, our country is still so fresh that we need to adopt some new ways of thinking and get away from the old. We are too strict on crime, thus being too strict on the criminal. A petty crime turns into one to three years behind bars, such as Favinger was saying in his interview. Things need to change; we need activists to set these changes. One organization that is doing this and their presence throughout Oakland is an organization called PUEBLO, which stands for People United for a Better Life in Oakland. “PUEBLO has won reforms in the areas of public health, education, living wage, environmental justice and youth development, as well as public safety”(Tagaart 2014). With Pueblo being such an influence on policy making, it is important that they pursue something of this kind, mass incarceration.
Especially in a city that is so diverse and filled with low-income families, minority families, and families that have members of such family in prisons and jails. Pueblo has a program that is run by Isaac Taggart called “Balancing the Inner and Outer Re-entry Program.” Taggart gives a little overview of this program, which focuses on the individual that is/ was in lock up. As Favinger said about the correctional officers, “Some are there for a pay check, others are there to rehabilitate you” (Favinger 2014). This program at Pueblo helps individuals get back on their feet, for the reason that some do not get the proper chance at rehabilitation in prison or jail. The Pueblo program serves black and latino men who live in Oakland ages 19 years and older, formerly incarcerated or incarcerated at Santa Rita Jail and San Quentin Prison. We recruit them while they are incarcerated one to three months pre-release and introduce them to restorative justice. They also will get case management services and assistance in developing their transitional plan in preparation of being released.
Post release clients will have to participate in restorative justice healing circles and having a mentor (Taggart 2014). Programs of this nature are so important because they focus on the individual, and not as a group of people. When focusing specifically on a person individually you get much better results. Prisons have an effect not only on the family but also on that person that is locked up. It can either better them or weaken them, so a program of this nature will be there to strengthen the weak and make the strong that much stronger. Hopley also went on to say, “In my personal opinion, mass incarceration benefits a community as it keeps convicted offenders off the street, breaking the crime cycle and protecting a community” when asked if he thinks mass incarceration affects a city.
I agree with him, but not fully. It is important to look case to case and see what the violation was and why that person is getting sentenced to jail or prison. Look at his or her family history, how many kids he or she has; who will support them? Not everyone is a hard nose criminal, like Andrea Strong and the story about her brother. In no way was it fair for him to be sentenced for such a long period of time. So to say that helping and protecting the community is a very broad and general statement. It is important to understand who is getting affected by sentencing someone to jail or prison when there are other rehabilitation programs that he or she can do, and still help out within the household. Conclusion
Clashing opinions are what cause debates, arguments, wars, and many other things. It is important to understand all the different opinions and not to be ignorantly blind to what others think. With mass incarceration, there are a couple of different views. My view on mass incarceration, which I have reiterated throughout this paper, sentencing needs to be shorter because of the harsh consequences that incarceration directly affects families with. Corrections should be the biggest piece of the pie when looking on how to divide the money and spread it out throughout the court, prison, and jail systems. Unfortunately, it is not working out that way. Not to mention that our prisons violate international standards with the structure and how they are operated on the inside. Solitary confinement increases instability in inmates and is considered by international law to be torture. In the United States solitary confinement isn’t regulated by anyone but the prison officials. Neither judge nor jury oversees this.
There are no appeals processes at all for solitary confinement. We started to think that being tough on crime was to be tough on criminals. This thinking is incorrect. To be tough on crime is one thing, but that does not mean we have to take it out on those criminals. This is why our prisons and jails are over crowded. We have an old way of thinking in a relatively new country. It is evident that police over exert their power on citizens, especially with minorities. The United States is a capitalistic country, with the ability of having privately owned jails and prisons. It would only make sense that they have the highest rate of incarceration. This means lawmakers government agencies are making lots of money off of peoples shortcomings.
To say that United States is going to change soon would be a false belief. It is important for people to educate themselves about these issues and contact their local policy makers. It would be beneficial to start small in a community, and let it take off like a wild fire. We need to see a change in numbers, meaning more children will be raised correctly, not having to endure what someone like myself had to. The evidence is clear that having a parent in prison has a direct affect on a child and vice-versa. Rehabilitation is key, and it is important to realize that people may need to change, but cannot be forced to. Once this is accomplished, change will truly happen through better rehabilitation systems being put into affect.
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