By: Earl Cease, JS Senior
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), in 2008 there were approximately 756 people per 100,000 U.S. residents that were incarcerated in either state/federal prison or local jails (Clear, Cole, & Reisig. 2011). For years the American justice system has used the “lock ‘em up” philosophy in an attempt to control crime and all we have to show for it in the end is a prison population that has surpassed every other nation in the world. While the crime rate in America has raised and fell throughout the years, incarceration rate has continued to rise thus illustrating that there is little to no correlation between incarceration and crime. This is contrary to popular thinking that we can secure our cities and communities by simply locking away our criminals. Another latent effect of our dependence on incarceration (other than the millions of dollars that goes into the prison industrial complex) is the degrading of criminals into second class citizens (Reiman & Leighton. 2009). Things such as public assistance, scholarships, and employment have been stripped away from those who have the mark of a criminal record. The effects of the mark of a criminal records effectively hinders a incarcerated individual’s chance to successfully re-integrate society.
Today, we have the greatest opportunity to make a change in our criminal justice system. Twenty years ago, we couldn’t even talk about any major reform of the criminal justice system without having to include something that involves being “tough on crime”, but because of our unsustainable criminal justice system, drastic measures have been made to reduce our prison population. AB 109, Criminal Justice Realignment Act, should not be seen as the solution to our current prison shortcomings but as a stepping stone to make a complete redesign (both structurally and philosophically) of our criminal justice system. Now is the chance to implement empirically based decision of what we have learned over the past 50 years or so of the failed prison experiment.Tags: Criminal Justice, Incarceration, Punishment, Rehabilitation