“The United States, with 5 percent of the world's population, houses nearly 25 percent of the world's prisoners” (Lithwick 28). By far, the US incarcerates more citizens than any other country, indicating that crime in this nation is a veritable monster, or that there is something seriously wrong with our prison system, and perhaps our legal system in general. The majority of US prisoners, though, were convicted for nonviolent crimes. Therefore, the problem ostensibly lies with our legal system and how we handle convicted criminals. Prison reform is needed, and quickly.
We are not imprisoning the right people. It is estimated that 16 percent of inmates (350,000) suffer from some sort of mental illness. Inmates with psychiatric disorders rarely receive treatment, and the effects of incarceration make treatment after release far more ineffective. Also, depression as a result of incarceration makes suicide the leading cause of death among inmates, with nearly all victims suffering from mental illness. Further, the majority of inmates have committed nonviolent crimes. Prison, by definition, takes away almost every freedom and liberty granted to every US citizen. In a nation that esteems such qualities so highly, it follows that prison would only be reserved to those who present a serious threat to society or the freedoms of other individuals. This is not the case.
Approximately 60 billion dollars per year is used to imprison 2.2 million inmates.
This amounts to over 27 thousand dollars per inmate. Taxpayers shoulder their cost of living, so it is the taxpayer who is truly punished for crimes the inmate committed.
Prison, as it stands, is outrageously costly, in many cases unjust, and extremely ineffective. In order to solve the problem, three things must be done. First, those who deserve to be there need to be weeded out from those who don’t. For the most part, this means those who commit serious offenses. Second, inmates need to work for their cost of living just as everyone else. Food and shelter has always been reserved to those who earn it, and inmates are certainly capable of earning it. There’s no reason why taxpayers should pay for their amenities. Finally, Prison needs to be a place that inspires reform. It needs to be harsh and it needs to make inmates afraid of returning once they are free.
Philip Whitehurst XXIII