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The matter of the effectiveness of the US penal system is a quite actual issue nowadays. Overpopulated prisons present more problems than they resolve. This paper analyzes the US jail population, evaluates the most serious issues related to this problem, and suggests solutions.
An Increase in the Jail Population
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According to the article “Jailhouse Nation,” the Brennan Centre for Justice researched the situation in the United States jails. The study shows that the number of prisoners grows rapidly. The percentage of imprisoned men and women has increased during the last twenty years (“Jailhouse Nation”). According to the official data, America has the highest rate of imprisonment. In comparison to other developed nations, the number of prisoners in the Unites States is five times higher than in Great Britain, nine times higher than in Germany, and fourteen times higher than in Japan. These numbers suggest that criminal justice in the United States is harsh.
The Cause of the Increase
The rate of imprisonment in the USA has increased due to the government’s response to the high level of crime in the country. In order to make the life of law-abiding people safer, the White House adopted the Law Enforcement Act of 1994. As a result of his bill, there are now “165,000 murderers in American state prisons and 160,000 rapists” (Jailhouse Nation). With the help of this bill, Hillary Clinton’s husband has filled many cells.
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Considering the studies and the data related to the number of people in jails, it appears that imprisonment is counter-productive. That is why a few steps should be taken in order to reduce the number of prisoners.
First, a war on drugs needs to be rationally resolved. For example, a person who is put in jail for illegal drug use could instead pay taxes for buying drugs in a store. Such a solution could bring more positive results. According to the article, 20 percent of prisoners are drug offenders (“Jailhouse Nation”). This would not be the case if drugs were officially legislated in the Unites States.
Second, it is a good idea to better some rules in order to prevent judges from putting people in jail for a long time. This concerns individuals who do not pose a real threat to the society. The purpose of this is to lock up only the most dangerous people. Such a practice is successfully applied in New York. Police intelligence helps judges to make decisions. When a person shows any signs that he or she would continue a “criminal career”, the court imprisoons such an individual for a long time. However, if charges are not serious, a person may be free again soon. This has helped to reduce prison population in New York.
Lastly, one of the most serious issues concerning the increase in jail population is that many criminals serve life sentences and have no possibility to be free again. Such strict verdicts may not be necessary. For example, a period of ten years in prison has a great effect on a person and may be effective enough. What is more, instead of spending money to keep a man in jail, the government should spend it on other things (for an instance, catching criminals outside).
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In conclusion, the US jail population increased in the last twenty years due to the Law Enforcement Act of 1994. However, there are a few suggestions that the US government could take into consideration in an attempt to solve the issue of overpopulation in jails. Some new reforms, like legalizing drugs, imprisoning only the most dangerous criminals, or abolishing life imprisonment, may be difficult for the society to accept, but a developed country should do its best to improve the situations with jails, law, and crime. If these steps are followed, America will be considered “a land of the free” rather than a “jailhouse nation” (“Jailhouse Nation”).
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