If Crime Is Decreasing, Why does the Incarceration Rate Continue to Increase?
The following chart from Prison Policy Initiative, breaks up the type of people in prison and shows why the US incarceration rate exceeds 2 million people. There are more people in jail awaiting trial than there are people who have committed any other crime, which may be surprising since this is not exactly what television and media depict. Although they have shorter sentences, their incarceration is very costly to us. We spend billions a year to incarcerate millions of people who commit minor law violations, who are undergoing the deportation process, who face addiction issues, and who are simply awaiting trial.
The War on Drugs has incited further conflict, rather than reach crime control. It does not succeed in preventing people from associating themselves with drugs. The fact is that despite efforts to prevent teenagers from experiencing with drugs, many are not effective. 50% of teenagers will smoke marijuana before they graduate high school, while 75% will drink alcohol. The law currently suggests that we imprison those who experiment with drugs. However, after incarceration, many drug users are still likely to have addiction problems, leading to re-incarceration. Proper rehabilitation is required to decrease the chances that people will re-enter prison. Placing more money into education and rehabilitation costs less and has proven to be more effective. The Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison (DTAP) program is being used in Brooklyn, New York. Under this program, the average cost of putting someone in the program is $32,974, compared to the $64,338 needed to send him or her to prison for 25 months (the average prison sentence for drug offenders). A federal report, the National Treatment Improvement Evaluation Study (NTIES), showed that after completing a treatment program, the percentage of offenders arrested for drug charges went down by 51%, overall arrests declined by 64%, and 70-90% saw reductions in criminal behavior.
Imprisoning people for carrying drugs also makes way for violent crimes. While the War on Drugs intends to prevent drug exchange and usage, it fails to prevent even more dangerous violent crimes. Because drugs are difficult to maintain, they sell for high values. People are more willing to become violent over high profits in the distribution of drugs, than in the actual usage of them. This makes neighborhoods, where drug exchange is most common, more dangerous. People of low-income communities are more likely to be affected by this because law-enforcement is more likely to be present in these communities. Drug exchange is just as common in high income communities, but is less likely to be recognized by law-enforcers.
The point in all this is that we spend $50 billion dollars a year trying to make people stay away from drugs, but our methods are ineffective. Instead, drug dealing becomes more appealing to those who need to make “easy” money, drug users continue to struggle with addiction, and drug use remains quite common. There is no doubt that drugs are an issue, but it is the way the criminal justice system handles it that makes drugs an even greater issue. Placing drug-users in prison will not get rid of their addiction. Once they leave prisons, they will very likely still have addiction problems, leading them once again to prison. Actual rehabilitation is the only way to properly treat this issue.
Mass incarceration affects people unequally in other ways. Most people who are in prison awaiting trial are people who could not afford bail. In other words, as long as someone can afford to be bailed out of jail, they have the privilege of being able to buy their freedom. This is clearly a greater issue among low-income communities and also contributes to the reason for why inmates are more likely to be people of low-incomes. It is also very costly to us, considering that we spend about 9 billion dollars a year on pretrial incarceration.
Funds for prisons are quickly increasing, while the opposite is happening for our public schools and rehabilitation programs. Our taxes could instead fund a better quality of education, which would also serve to educate students so that they do not end up in prison in the first place. We could also provide rehabilitation programs and other programs to help ex-felons appropriately reintegrate into society. Rather than shutting the door on them, and increasing their chances of committing further crimes, we could actually work to prevent people from entering or reentering prison.
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: 2010. Print.
Hartney, Christopher. “U.S. Rates of Incarceration: A Global Perspective”. National Council on Crime and Delinquency. 2006. Print.
Mitchell, Kristin. "Rehab or Prison?" Beyond the Orange Wall. May 2010. Web.
Newman, Tony. "10 Ways the Drug War Is Causing Massive Collateral Damage to Our Society." AlterNet. January 2013. Web.
Pelaez, Vicky. "The Prison Industry in the United States: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery?" Global Research. March 2014. Web.
Short, April. “In America, Innocent Until Proven Guilty? Not For Most People Who Are Stuck in Jail.” Truthout. December 2013. Web.
Wagner, Peter, and Sakala Leah. “Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie.” Prison Policy Initiative. March 2014. Web.