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During the last forty years, there has been conducted an experiment in the incarceration sphere where the prison was decided to be the main mechanism for dealing with crime rates. Once a person has served a prison term, he or she comes across numerous problems right after being released, starting from work search and reduced earnings up to destabilized relations in the neighborhood. That is why it is evident that the problem now is much wider because apart from reducing the long sentences that came short of expectations, it is important for the government to support released prisoners and the communities they come from in order to prevent further crimes.
To understand the issue in depth, one should take a closer look at its background. For a long period of time the idea that prisons prevented people from committing crime has dominated. However, in the words of Todd Clear, the provost of Rutgers University-Newark specializing in the study of criminal justice, who partially agrees with this statement, it does not mean that the crime will not be committed. The explanation is simple: taking one person out of the criminal group and imprisoning him or her does not lead to the group’s disintegration or reducing its criminal activity. According to him, “No matter what was going on in the environment [the crime rates, economic situation, war or peace time] we grew the prison population… by increasing the length of stay, and we grew it by increasing the rate of going to prison given that you’re convicted of a felony.” (Childress, 2014).
Another interesting fact for consideration is how the policy of the prison sentencing changed with time since the 1970s. In 1972, approximately 75% of people convicted of felonies were not sentenced to prison (Childress, 2014). Now, the situation is completely different - while 75% get a prison sentence, and a half who do not, go to jail as a condition of the non-prison sentence. The average length of stay in prisons also changed – now, it is about 30 months compared to the 15 in 1972 (Childress, 2014). In my estimation, taking into consideration the above facts, and the fact that crime rates remained unchanged, one cannot deny the better effectiveness of the USA government’s earlier philosophy compared to a new one. From the materialistic point of view, more prisoners require more money spent on their keeping.
Nevertheless, one should not forget the social factor. When incarceration rates raised and crime rates dropped, public expectations about safety changed into less positive. Previously widely spread idea that the more criminals stay in prison, the less threat the society feels, has not satisfied expectations and was superseded by the idea that the more prisoners are incarcerated, the less safe people feel. Most taxpayers would probably think why they should pay more taxes for the prisoners’ welfare as the numbers of inmates grow and feel less safe. To my mind, stability of crime rate, unreasonable tax increase, and the absence of safety feeling prove that early approach to incarceration system was a better choice.
As longer sentences and mass incarceration have not had the expected outcome, the US policy on this matter is now reconsidering and already in the process of changing existing for many years system. Laws concerning the length of sentencing that were enacted in the 70s were aimed at reducing crime; however, what we see 40 years after is that the crime rates have not changed much whereas the number of people being incarcerated grew several-fold. Dr. Clear comments it this way: “We’ve invested in prisons and we’ve got the same crime rate, so it sounds like the answer to that question [whether the experiment with longer sentences was a success] is pretty straightforward. It has failed.” (Childress, 2014) To my mind, Dr. Clear is right and there are several reasons that, I think, prove his idea. First, when police catch an offender, it is believed that the community would become better, but in the event, this person is probably a member of a gang who after his imprisonment would be replaced by somebody else. Hence, even more people become involved in criminal activities.
Secondly, when a family stays without its breadwinner who gets in prison, there is a high likelihood that the children will eventually be there as well. Statistics say that 25% of criminals’ children also appeared to be incarcerated (Childress, 2014). Another reason that explains the experiment’s failure is that the US government mostly intended to imprison more offenders instead of thinking about why there are high rates of criminality in the particular communities. I strongly believe that primarily work should be done within those high-crime-rate areas because their way of life and cycling delinquency prevent people living there from getting a good job and leading a decent life within their neighborhood.
One of the steps that was made towards changing the situation is the decision of the Federal Government to reduce the sentence for drug offenders, and thus, their early release. One can argue whether it is rational; however, but it becomes evident that comparing to murderers or rapists these men deserve a second chance. It is said that the majority of such convicts once chose the path of crime because they believed it would help to put an end to poor existence and to support their families. Now, as these men were released, in my view, taken measures to guide them so that they could start a new life without getting back to drug dealing, is a right decision. Nevertheless, though the programs are aimed at simplifying the lives of ex-prisoners supporting them with temporary housing and other services, it remains unclear whether they would be capable to do this further taking into consideration that there are no money from government for hiring new parole officers. Consequently, as the more offenders are released, the more parole officers the government will have to furnish. Neglecting to do this, could cause numerous problems for both offenders and society.