Between 1970–2008, our lock-up rate increased five hundred percent. The United States has more inmates and prisons than both Russia and China combined. We have approximately 2.3 million inmates and about 6 million individuals on parole or probation.
There are numerous reasons for our mass incarceration crisis. First, we need to acknowledge and recognize that addiction is a health issue and not a criminal offense. Second, nonviolent mentally ill offenders should not be incarcerated in our jails and prisons, but instead receive effective mental health care in our local communities. Third, it is time to end the biased targeting of minorities. Fourth, eliminate debtor’s prisons ( unfair bail and unreasonable fines). Fifth, no more mandatory sentencing (judges need sentencing discretion)–the list goes on.
Under Pres. Obama and attorney General Eric Holder, reforms were implemented to reduce the crazy sentencing of earlier decades. The Justice Department steered away from long sentences for non-violent offenders. Obama’s administration was phasing out private prisons for federal inmates. There is no logical or ethical reason to combine prisons and the goal of profit for private companies. With prison profit, the goals of rehabilitation and reduced recidivism fall by the wayside.
Some states, even under Republican leadership were also going forward with reform policies.
New Jersey’s Governor Christie was one of several conservative Republican governors, who has advocated prison reform as a way to save tax dollars. He passed bipartisan legislation mandating drug treatment instead of incarceration for non-violent offenders. He stressed that drug treatment and not jail sentences was the path for reduction of crime. If recidivism was lowered, then New Jersey would shrink its crowded prison system. In the end, a successful drug treatment program would reduce the state prison population and the state’s deficit.
Despite the howls from the present administration about run away crime rates and prison reform, the statistics show that during 2010–2015, America’s incarceration rate fell by 8%, and the crime rate dropped 15%.
The first actions by the Trump administration revealed their opposition toward justice-prison reform. Sessions has instructed his 5,000 assistant U.S. attorneys to charge defendants with offenses which have the maximum penalties. While a senator, Sessions opposed reform of the justice system. The Trump administration has awarded its first federal contract for 110 million to the Geo Group, a major private prison company, for a new immigrant detention center to be built in Texas. GEO contributed $250,000 to support Trump’s inauguration and a GEO Group subsidiary gave $225,000 to a super PAC that supported Trump for president.
We do not know the future of prison-justice reform, but it is certain that we have taken two steps backward with the Trump administration.
By: Brad Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com