The problem of mass incarceration is bigger than the life of individuals in the United States prison system. Many prisoners continue living in prison-like conditions after serving their incarceration sentence. An estimated 20 million individuals of the U.S population have a felony record, and annually, more individuals join this statistic. The inhumane conditions that prisoners are subject to in state and federal correctional facilities put them in a different reality than the outside world. Unfortunately, the effects of their prison experience still linger upon release, making reintegration into society difficult.
Many individuals find themselves in prison without a fair chance at trial. They are forced to take plea deals rather than continuing the trial process, ultimately convicting them of the criminal charges against them.
Incarceration cuts prisoners from the full benefit of being a citizen upon release. They are subject to different laws that prohibit them from doing something or mandate them to do something. Some of these laws are centered on employment and shrink the job market for ex-prisoners. For instance, employers in the State of Illinois may not employ someone with a criminal record if they can determine a safety risk in hiring the person. They may depend on the type of offense, the number of convictions, or the nature of the offense.
Over the years, some housing laws have also affected individuals with criminal records. Such individuals may also be mandated to perform some tasks, including taking a drug test periodically or having a state boundary curfew.
These laws can also separate ex-prisoners from their family members and potential helpers. People may not want to associate with because they may be affected by such laws. Moreover, ex-convicts face a stigma in society which makes it hard for them to re-integrate.
Although there are re-entry programs created to make reintegration easier for prisoners, they do not solve the core problems that make them confined even after incarceration. The programs can prepare a prisoner to navigate life after prison, but cannot prevent the stigma inflicted by society or stop the laws and policies that will affect them negatively.
The problem of mass incarceration generally affects the poor, and particular racial groups are dominantly affected. 84% of people serving a prison sentence are poor, and 40% of the inmates are black. The racial disparities further aggravate the matter and result in it being ignored as a serious issue.
The introduction of humane laws and policies that affect prisoners will help to facilitate the re-entry of prisoners into society. Legislations should also not target or disenfranchise a particular group because of stereotypes that may be harmful.