The Latest

THE LATEST

THE LATEST THINKING

THE LATEST THINKING

The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.

America's Prison Problem: How to Break the Cycle

Haley Mullins

Posted on April 28, 2021 18:29

3 users

America's prison system is in dire need of reform. Here are some progressive first steps.

The US spends over $81 billion annually on mass incarceration, most of which goes to housing nonviolent offenders who are disproportionately people of color.  Since the War on Drugs began, our prisons have become an overcrowded money pit.  Recent reform bills fail to tackle these issues, leaving us in a vicious cycle of paying billions to lock citizens up only for most to return for repeat offenses.


While there’s more nuance to this issue than I can address here, there are a few ways we can begin to break the cycle.


#1. Drug Legislation & Releasing Drug Offenders

Decriminalizing and legalizing all drugs, and releasing prisoners incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses is a massive step towards prison reform.  Since the 1980s, the number of incarcerated people for drug-related charges spiked from 40,900 in 1980 to 452,964 in 2017.  This policy of “cracking down” on drugs has been the single largest contributor to today’s prison overpopulation problem.  By federally legalizing drugs and releasing these prisoners, we immediately reduce the incarcerated population by about 20%.


#2. Pay Prisoners Fair Wages

The prison labor industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that includes both private businesses and in-house work (custodial, food service, etc.).  


Jobs with private companies offer higher wages than those within correctional facilities, but even those positions only offer an average wage between 33 cents and $1.44.  A condition in the 13th amendment exempts prisoners from earning minimum wage, making prisoners America’s modern-day legal slaves.


Additionally, many prisoners are disenfranchised, yet all employed inmates pay income taxes.  After taxes and other deductions, many prisoners end up with less than half of their gross pay.  


If we paid prisoners at least a minimum wage, they’d be better equipped to reenter society upon release, reducing the rate of recidivism, and thus drastically reducing the costs incurred by reincarceration.


#3. Make Quality Education More Accessible

Education is the most valuable asset our society can offer to prisoners.  While many will argue that there are already educational opportunities for prisoners, the quality of education provided is poor and the accessibility to better education is restricted.


Roughly two-thirds of prisoners come from low-income backgrounds, and many get trapped in the cycle of poverty and recidivism because they are ill-prepared to contribute to society after release.  Right now, only about 9% of prisoners are receiving post-secondary degrees/certificates while incarcerated because of the limited access to Pell Grants, leaving the vast majority of those released without a single competitive advantage in the job market.


Investing in prisoner education is a cost effective approach to criminal reform.  Not only does education provide essential skills that allow prisoners to contribute to society and achieve more social and economic mobility, taxpayer dollars are saved, making this a valuable investment for both individuals and the collective population.


While these suggestions are not a cure-all, they're the least we can do to afford an ounce of humanity and support to our underserved communities.

Haley Mullins

Posted on April 28, 2021 18:29

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Source: NBC 4i

(NBC News) — Tonight on “Dateline,” Lester Holt spent two nights locked up and embedded inside the largest maximum-security...

THE LATEST THINKING

Video Site Tour

The Latest
The Latest

Subscribe to THE LATEST Newsletter.

The Latest
The Latest

Share this TLT through...

The Latest