Criminal Justice System in the United States

The United States holds the current record for the country with the largest incarceration. The United States ranks first as the country with the most prisoners, housing more than 2 million prisoners serving time in its correctional facilities. For perspective, Brazil ranks third with less than 50% of this number (759,518). The incarceration rate has not always been so high. Over four decades, the prisoners’ populace in the United States has drastically increased by 500%, majorly because of harsh sentencing laws and approaches. 

The ripple effect of this increase includes social vices in the prisons due to overcrowding. States also struggle with adequate financing of their prisons due to the increasing number, resulting in low quality of life for the prisoners. Moreover, the mass incarceration approach has failed to be an effective measure to ensure public safety. 

Causes of the High Incarceration Rate

The skyrocketed incarceration rate in the United States can be linked to the War on Drugs, which caused strict sentencing policies for drug convictions. It began in the 1980s and soared the arrest rates over the decades. Statistics showed that by the 1980s, the arrest rate for drug violations went up to 126% compared to other crimes that increased by less than 30%. 

Between 1980 to 2019, individuals sentenced with drug convictions drastically grew from 40,900 to 430,926. The introduction of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses contributed to a more extended prison sentence for inmates. As the sentencing policies were reviewed over the years, the average prison sentence also increased. In 2004, the average prison time for federal drug offenses was 62 months. 

Half of the inmates housed in federal prisons are convicted for a drug-related offense. Drug convictions in state prisons have also increased since the War against Drugs campaign. However, recent laws legalizing the use of marijuana in some states and better sentencing policies have helped trigger a decline in the incarceration rate. 

For the most part, convicts serve longer terms, including life sentences and some without any chance at parole. The number of individuals carrying out life punishments by 2020 was about 200,000. For context, there were under 40,000 detainees condemned to life detainment in 1984.

Approaches that empowered mass detainment targeted people of color more. Information from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that one of every three people of color is probably going to be detained in the course of their life. Black men are multiple times more likely to face imprisonment than white men, and Latinos are two and half times bound to encounter detainment.

Changing the Criminal Justice System

As of late, the imprisonment rate in the United States has somewhat declined, and this has steadied the prison populace. More states are executing strategies that plan to lessen their prison populace and stop the unjust detainment of residents. Many states now use better policies to promote public safety while addressing incarceration. 

The federal government has also approached the incarceration issue in the federal justice system by passing the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010 and other positive changing policies.

However, more can be done to ensure this issue is solved. Sentencing policies that promote large incarceration and lengthier prison sentences can be canceled. The government can also ensure that the criminal justice system is unbiased against a particular community or race. Reintegration programs will ensure that persons with a criminal history can rejoin their community without stigma and have equal opportunities like other community members.