Posted June 26, 2015

Mass Incarceration: America's Problem Child

            Mass incarceration in America acts as poison to American livelihood.  The amount of people incarcerated has quadrupled since the 1970s, and the social “benefit” of attacking crime with harsh punishments (ever heard the phrase “tough on Crime?), and having so many imprisoned is slowly reversing itself.   
            The “Three Strikes” law is, in some form, adopted by 24 of the United States—including Montana.  Under California law, one of the harsher “Three Strikes” state, a person on the second strike is ineligible for probation, the time on the sentence is doubled—2 years becomes 4 years—and the person must serve 80-85% of the sentence.  On the third strike the person is sentenced to a minimum of 25 to life, and must serve the entire sentence.  It puts people who commit non-violent crimes behind bars too often and too long.  It takes money away from taxpayers and it takes people away from families and jobs, and offers no ideas on reform of incarcerated people, which should be the main goal of any institutional prison.
            It disproportionately affects Black and Latino men.  The law affects, even more disproportionately, Native American men, who have triple the percentage of incarcerated individuals compared to whites.  Mainly this law stupidly and harshly incarcerates people for life…for stealing a pizza.
            Proposition 36 was passed in 2012.  It reformed the law from its rough beginnings.  According to Ballotpedia, an interactive almanac of U.S. politics, the following changes were made to the California law:
  • Revises the three strikes law to impose life sentence only when the new felony conviction is "serious or violent."
  • Authorizes re-sentencing for offenders currently serving life sentences if their third strike conviction was not serious or violent and if the judge determines that the re-sentence does not pose unreasonable risk to public safety.
  • Continues to impose a life sentence penalty if the third strike conviction was for "certain non-serious, non-violent sex or drug offenses or involved firearm possession."
  • Maintains the life sentence penalty for felons with "non-serious, non-violent third strike if prior convictions were for rape, murder, or child molestation."
Even with the proposition passing, only a small percentage of cases were opened for resentencing.  More states need to adopt some type of reform, and the “closed” cases need reevaluation from a new set of eyes and ears.
Mass incarceration outrageously costs Americans 80 billion in one year, not to mention the money invested in police and judicial services amounting to more than a quarter billion a year, all according to Brookings Institution’s Hamilton project.  Even if you don’t directly know someone incarcerated, the laws effecting prisoners are impacting you as well.  Everyone and their grandma have an idea about where big money like that could be better sent and spent.
            America’s over crowding of prisons creates too many burdens.  Bryan Stevenson, who won the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award in social justice, says in an interview “The United States is the only country in the world where children as young as thirteen years of age have been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole”.
            Ask yourself, “What the heck is going on?”

Tanner Kemp
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