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Correctional Medical Care: The United States Incarceration Rate


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With the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world, the United States has an obvious, and pressing, incarceration issue. What are some of the causes of this prison overcrowding?

Published in: Government & Nonprofit
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Correctional Medical Care: The United States Incarceration Rate

  2. 2. 88% BACKGROUND According to commonly cited statistics, the United States has about 5% of the world’s population, but houses 25% of the world’s prison population.
  3. 3. WHAT ARE SOME CAUSES? The War on Drugs Longer Nonviolent Sentences Trying minors as adults Politics at large
  4. 4. THE WAR ON DRUGS Since the 1980s, the United States government has cracked down on drug-related crimes. If someone is found with just a small amount of illegal drugs on their person, they may go to prison for several years, even if they’re a minor. Anyone involved in drug smuggling and production can also be charged at the full level of the crime, even if their role was incredibly small or a one-time involvement. The law has become tougher on drug-related crimes in an effort to reduce drug abuse in the country. Whether or not this method works is a hotly contested issue.
  5. 5. LONGER SENTENCES In addition to long sentences for drug-related non-violent crime, other non-violent crimes now come with more serious sentences. Recently, California reduced certain non-violent crimes to misdemeanors instead of felonies, which resulted in 2,700 non-violent criminals being released from jail. More and more crimes are being labeled as felonies, which result in longer sentences, even when the crimes themselves are "victimless" or non-violent.
  6. 6. TRYING MINORS AS ADULTS Another issue that seems to have spiked the imprisonment rate is the trend of trying minors as adults in various cases. Since the 1980s, instances of minors committing violent crimes has risen, which results in the court being more likely to try them as adults, which results to longer sentences. These sentences lead to the juvenile being held in adult facilities. Since the offenders are usually high school age, their imprisonment prevents them from completing school, which leads to difficulty acquiring a job and the likelihood that they’ll revert back to crime in order to sustain themselves.
  7. 7. POLITICAL REASONS Politicians wish to appear as though they are tough on crime in order to help their approval ratings and the easiest way to do that is by handing out tougher prison sentences. Unfortunately, these sentences usually apply to non-violent criminals who usually serve short sentences due to the nature of their crimes. In an interview with Slate, John Pfaff, a Fordham Law School professor argues that the War on Drugs and longer sentences do not necessarily account for the increase of the prison population. Pfaff believes the real culprit is district attorneys. It became more likely after the 1980s that a DA charged someone with a felony. While there isn’t a clear answer as to why a DA would do that, Pfaff believes the answer might be that DAs began having higher political aspirations and knew a strong anti-crime stance could help them advance their careers.