Incarceration in America: A New Approach to Clearing out Prisons

"America - We're Number One!" by DonkeyHotey licensed under CC BY 2.0
America – We’re Number One!” by DonkeyHotey licensed under CC BY 2.0

Source: The Atlantic

The War on Drugs and the resulting escalation of punishment for drug offenses has previously been regarded as the primary reason for mass incarceration in the US. However, The Atlantic’s “A&Q” series takes this idea apart, to offer an alternative culprit in an unjust system of imprisonment that leads the highest incarceration rates globally.

About half of inmates in federal prisons are incarcerated for drug offenses, and 16 percent of inmates in state prisons are held for drug offenses; The Atlantic notes that while the numbers are significant, if all drug-offenders were released from prisons, this would only begin to peel away at mass incarceration. The real culprit lies in the incarceration rate of violent offenders, which make up about half of state prison inmates — and state prisons are much larger than federal prisons.

“Any serious effort to reduce the prison population will need to grapple with violent as well as nonviolent offenders.”

Much easier said than done to support criminal justice reform that focuses on reducing rates of violent offenders who are sentenced to prison. Instead of focusing on limiting the length of sentences for offenders, the system should focus its efforts on choosing carefully who it incarcerates, since many inmates are in for years and for smaller offenses, suggests John Pfaff, a law professor at Fordham University.

It is difficult to know how effective federal policy changes will be if they cannot penetrate state-level incarceration, which is where the greater number of inmates are.

Read full story at: The Atlantic

Justice & Poverty, News
Justice & Poverty, News