The prison system in the United States of America is larger than any other country in the world. With nearly 2.2 million inmates in jails, prisons, juvenile detention centers, immigration detention centers and various other facilities, it is not hard to get the idea prison is a big deal in the United States. While China had a population around 1,390,080,000 in 2017, only 1,649,804 were in prison, compared to the United States with a population just around 325,886,000. If you are wondering why, some of the reasons may be pretty clear. The war on drugs has people from all walks of the life entering the prison system for low level offenses. Improper policing is causes innocent citizens thrown in jail. Targeted policing has the same people being funneled into the system over and over again. A bias legal system encourages even innocent people to accept deals rather than take a gamble in court. Lastly, Homelessness, Helplessness and Depression are seeing jails get filled with people who have no better options.
The war on drugs has had its fair share of contributions to the incarceration rations in the United States. Ever since the 1971 Controlled Substances Act, the prison population numbers have skyrocketed 500%. The war on drugs made helped make a big dent in the drug trade and got some of the nation’s biggest drug dealers off the street and into prison. They also had an easy time carting off low level offenders into the prisons as well. Undercover stings, confidential informants and fake drug deals made sure the media was able to tout big drug numbers and also help fill the prisons with the bad guys. Even state-legal cannabis dispensaries, operating with state approval, are welcomed guests to the jails and prisons with the War on Drugs.
Police officers are sworn to uphold the law. They are out there to find the bad people. Being a police officer is a tough job. Arrests have to be made to keep communities safe. Sometimes, though, the community has to be saved from those who are supposed to prevent crimes. That is where improper policing adds its part into the incarceration rates. You see, sometimes a bad officer might not be able to prove that someone did something, but they can still take them to jail. If the person has already been arrested for the same type of crime, it makes it even easier. A bad day for an officer could mean a few hours in jail for the person who talked to them the wrong way. Even worse, they could just plant drugs on you, as was the case with Jackson County Sheriff Deputy Zachary Wester, who was fired for planting methamphetamine in citizens cars during traffic stops. It was so bad that State Attorney Glenn Hess was quoted saying they had to “review of all cases made in the past two years by that officer and have been taking steps to correct a situation that is unacceptable.” (Z. McDonald– 9/20/2018)
Targeted policing shouldn’t have its part diminished either. Also called Hot Spots Policing, it is famous for helping get repeat offenders off of the street and into prisons. The practice is to focus on small geographic areas or places, usually in urban settings, where crime is concentrated according to CrimeSolutions.gov. The majority of the times, these areas are either poorer, predominately minority occupied or generally experience more crime, and sometimes all three. If police keep going to high drug traffic areas, they will keep finding drug users who have drugs. That gets the drugs off the street, the users off the street and helps towards getting the dealer off the street and into prison.
The court system has been helping fill the prisons just by existing. The bias in the legal system has helped get those who don’t belong there into the prison system. When your options are go to trial at the risk of receiving 25 years or plea out for the possibility of 3 years, you tend to take the three years, especially if your lawyer isn’t helpful and already overworked. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t actually commit the crime. There aren’t many people who want to gamble with those odds and payouts. The defense wants to win and a win means someone gets to go to prison.
There are some who actually want to go to prison. Believe it or not, some people actually commit crimes just to go to prison. With homelessness on the rise, some are resorting to going to jail rather than having to face the freezing winters or burning summers. Others are going to jail because it may be all that they know after being in it for so long. Mental and physical health also plays roles in people going to jails. Frank J. Morrocco of Amherst intentionally robbed a store because he needed healthcare. He was quoted as saying “It was an act of desperation. I went into that store and took things I didn’t need, and I made sure a lot of people saw me,” (D. Herbeck – 12/8/2018) Frank wanted to make sure he was able to go back to prison. Sometimes it’s easier to get mental or physical help in prison than it is on the outside due to costs associated with being healthy.
The incarceration rates in the United States are high. They’ve been high for years. They will most likely get higher. These reasons they are getting higher are quite likely the main reasons for this problem today. The war on drugs is ensuring that the prisons stay filled, improper policing is not only putting criminals away but now putting cops in jail as well which is also filling the prisons, targeted policing is ensuring that the same people keep returning and the bias of the legal system is ensuring their times there are long. The hopelessness, helplessness and depression of our country is making it so that even law-abiding citizens might take a chance to go to prison just to be able to survive. It is all of these reasons why I do not see the prison population dropping.