Research- MysteryLimbo

Prisoners Are People Too

Felons in the United States have second class citizenship. Becoming a felon in the United States makes one a second class citizen. Second class citizens do not have the same rights as the average American such as the right to vote, a fair and honest work environment, and all the other rights that our constitution gives us.  Felons in the United States are second-class citizens, deprived of their fundamental constitutional rights, among them the right to vote and the right to a fair and honest work environment. Most if not all, misdemeanors do not affect one’s right as an American. Having rights is something that was created with the founding of our nation but it is also something that our founding fathers left for their successors to change as the world is changing every day, the founders were not cruel, and either should we be. Though this is a clear principle our founding father wanted for this country, those who want the government to remain small believe it is not the government’s job to mandate every problem and especially if has to do with prisoners. Efforts to reform the system is thwarted by politicians who want to deprive petty criminals of their fundamental rights. Petty crimes are usually things like possession of marijuana or even small traces of crack or heroin on clothing could land someone a sentence without parole. If they can be prosecuted as felonies, the consequences of these victimless crimes are devastating to the prisoners. Some have said name one that opponents of prisoner reform are trying to suppress the votes of specifically these prisoners whose, they feel would go to another party. There is no constitutional justification for depriving even rightfully convicted felons of their rights once they have served their sentences.

Let’s look at the governments The First Step Act the bill was passed with a bipartisan agreement of 360-59. Although the bill is going in the right direction for the future of our prison reform, it does not address the problem of mass incarceration. According to Chrysse Haynes’ of Equal Justice Under Law, “The Act solely focuses on the “back-end” by allowing prisoners to accrue “time credits” and some can exchange those credits for early release into a halfway house or home confinement. Therefore, this Act does not resolve the problem of extremely long sentences being imposed on prisoners at the outset.” meaning prisoners are not really being fully freed after doing time credits because now prisoners would need to serve time between home arrest and/or in the halfway house. There are people thrown into federal prison due to the “war on drugs” despite the fact that the biggest drug problem in the United States is the pain-relieving drugs prescribed by doctors otherwise known as opioids. Additionally, minorities only make up about twelve percent of the opioid overdoses in the United States. This is a much lower percentage than white, non-Hispanic people to make up about 78 percent of the total overdoses. Petty crimes are counted as felonies in our justice system and many people view this as a way to suppress minorities and low-income households because of the emphasis on cash bail. Cash Bail is money that people pay as a deposit for the release of a person who has been arrested. The Department of Finance holds the money to help incentivize that the defendant will return to court for their trial. This cash bail system is in place in all 50 states in the United States.

The reason why cash bail does not work is that bail ranges from $500-$25,000 and if one can not afford to pay for the bail one could get a bond which is usually 10% of bail but all in all cash bail is an expensive cash grab from the government. Although in the in past the United States government had used like poll taxes making it harder for minority groups to vote. Even today it is still hard to vote because of gerrymandering and the political fight constantly going on in the United States. In the state of South Carolina, their gerrymandering has successfully suppressed the minority votes in South Carolina’s 6th district because of their control in the Governor seat politicians were able to keep most of South Carolina black votes in one district. Obviously, things like this happening nationwide to gain political capital but it is illegal and it restricts the people’s right to elect anyone into office with our current system in place.

Although, the system is run from the top down according to The Economist  “two new reports that look at changing local fortunes in America over the last decade and over the past 35 years suggest that opportunities for poor Americans are diminishing. Both report that there has been no recent progress in achieving regional income equality.” meaning over the course of the last 35 years it has been harder to achieve the American dream even more than ever. According to U.S Poverty Statistic, “While the poverty rate for the population as a whole is 12.3% the rate varies greatly by race. Blacks have the highest poverty rate at 21.2% and non-Hispanic whites the lowest at 8.7%. The Poverty rate for Blacks and Hispanics is more than double that of non-Hispanic whites.” further my point that minority groups are put into this never-ending cycle of prison and poverty. Although one should not do not want to refer to white people as being inherently evil because it is the politicians that we need to blame. Politicians will do anything to stay in power and are willing to let people suffer to achieve that.

Prison system here in the United States is far from perfect. Using cash bail as a “get out jail free card” is a low blow to freedom. Black, Hispanics, and other minority groups are stuck in a system of poverty and mass incarceration compared to white people. Politicians use techniques such as gerrymandering to help the minorities votes by keeping them contained to certain areas. Minorities are unfairly targeted for non-fatal drug offenses and tend to face much harsher sentences than white people who are charged with the same crime. Additionally, politicians claim to be passing bills to help with prison reforms but, are actually just creating more ways to keep formerly incarcerated minorities from fully rejoining society. This is clearly demonstrated through examples such as halfway houses and home confinement. Subsequently, the government have done nothing to address the current problems of mass incarceration. This country has had a history of trying to keep not only black people but other minorities separate from the rest of society and that can still be seen today through our government and justice system.

The justice system and prison sentencing date back to ancient civilizations keeping prisoners in work camps or prisons, or even to execute them. Most forms of those previous incarceration/confinement methods are now unjust in most countries including the United States. The Soviet Union was known for having work camps known as gulags that worked prisoners work to death. The United States is no exception to the mistreatment of prisoners. Then considering Russia and the United States are completely different in ideology it is clear that the United States tends to care less about their prisoner population compared to Russia. Russia had a prison reform in 2009 and abolished capital punishment in 1999 showing the level of empathy that the Russian government compared to the United States. With most of the industrialized world condemning the United States for keeping such an inhumane justice system. In the past the United States government had prisoners make roads, railroads, and concrete for little to no money. It is often said that these harsh conditions are unheard of in modern-day prisons in the United States. That is nonsense because in 2018, according to Abigail Hess from CNBC, “Roughly 14,000 firefighters battled the Mendocino fires. Among them were over than 2,000 inmates.” This makes the ratio of firefighters in Mendocino, California alone 7 normal firefighters for every 1 inmate firefighter. Some critics even saying, “fear that the financial benefits of cheap prison labor incentivize mass incarceration. During an unsuccessful run for California Lieutenant Governor, Gayle McLaughlin went so far as to call the program “slave labor.” The United States cannot subject itself to slave labor and it is disgusting that the government is willing to restrict one’s freedom to keep cost-efficient labor. The population in California, according to the public policy institute of California, is about 39 million people and is 39% Latino/Latino American, 38% White, 14% Asian American, 6% African American, or 3% multiracial. According to that same source, it states the following about the prison population in California “California’s prison population peaked at nearly 163,000 in 2006; public safety realignment in 2011 and subsequent reforms accelerated its decline to a low of about 111,000 in 2015.” The public policy institute of California titled the issued as African American men remain overrepresented in the prison population and said, “At the end of 2016, 29% of the male prisoners in state prisons were African American, while only 6% of the state’s male residents are African American. The incarceration rate for African American men is 4,180 per 100,000 people. White men are imprisoned at a rate of 420 per 100,000 people, and imprisonment rates for Latino men and men of other races are 1,028 and 335 per 100,000 people, respectively.” meaning that comparatively speaking a black male then is 4 times more likely to be convicted and sentenced for a crime than a white man who committed the same crime. This gives African Americans a dangerous and threatening persona making all Americans judgemental and thus paranoid.

California is arguably the most progressive state in the country is the first state to have medical marijuana in 1996; California, decriminalized Marijuana and in the middle of  2016, California legalized the drug for recreational use. San Francisco was the first place in the United States to recognize same-sex marriage. The LGBT community is most prominent in California and yet the minorities are still misrepresented because of racial injustice within the United States justice system. Even with the government’s involvement, California has the largest prison population whose population consists of mostly minorities, especially African Americans and Latino Americans. With this problem continuously being ignored, African Americans that were previously felons struggle with receiving any form of federal aid like food stamps, student loan benefits, and employment. This evolves into a larger problem of why ethnic minorities are more likely to born into poverty. These “petty crimes” make our country’s justice system look weak and ultimately bias. Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist Paper 78 wrote: “The general liberty of the people can never be endangered” from the judiciary, so long as it “remains truly distinct from both the legislature and the executive.” Meaning justice shouldn’t be politically motivated, but is harsh prison sentencing a way for extremist political government officials to silence voters? That would be in clear violation of the founding principles of our country.

What has been stated could be mistaken for defending criminals, it is actually defending those who use the constitution and was ultimately failed by the document due to fees, policies, and cash bail. Due to lack of money blacks cannot pay for their cash bond which is usually about 10% of the bail which ranges from $500-$25,000 (Each state varies) that is from crimes such as small possession to serial rape. If a person is out on bail are not in jail until their trial but if one is unable to pay their bond unfortunately that person is forced to stay in jail overnight and have to face the judge in the orange jumpsuit. The reason wearing an orange jumpsuit in front of a judge matters is because when guilty felons are pleading for a lesser sentence the judge is going to assume the person on trial is not good enough to pay for the bond and judges will focus on is the fact the person on trial is in a jumpsuit ready to go to prison.

All in all, this problem has caused fear mongering done by political figures and people of influence to make minorities look like the enemy which makes the country a much more violent place. One could empathize with the people that feel this way in particular because America’s feel as if their culture is slowly being taken away from them because of the over-saturation of trying to diverse schools, social media, television, and business with this new generation of pop-culture and inclusion. Concluding that prison reform is a must in the United States, there should be no reason why the richest country and most powerful nation in the world should have the highest number of incarcerated people in the world. The United States has a total of 2,121,600 people in prison and then China has 1,649,804. It should be noted that China has a population of 1.386 billion people and the United State has a population of 325.7 million people. Which also means 0.1% of people in China are incarcerated and 0.6% of people are incarcerated in the United States. Although there can be various angles one could say the reason why the United States has more people in prison than any other country in the world, it is important to note that the United States and government bureaucrats tend to put minorities in jail for political gain and the total number of incarcerated people in the country reflects their cruel treatment of minorities.

The United States is the most developed, richest, and sophisticated nation in the world and is what the rest of the world views as a role model even though mass incarceration is happening in the United States without a reasonable doubt. The United States still leads the world in the most incarcerated people the United States has a total of 2.121 million people in prison and a population of 325.7 million people. That’s  6.5 prisoners for every 1000 US citizens. America’s thriving economy and famous freedoms MASK the sad reality. Prisons are disproportionately black and Hispanic in the United States Most inmates are minorities. The root of the argument could simply be diffused by saying, “criminals commit the crime; therefore, they were incarcerated” but it is not that simple. It is because of the lack of money and knowledge that low-income areas receive without proper education and money the cycle of poverty and mass incarceration will continue.

According to NPR, “About 40 percent of prisoners lack a high school education. Sixteen percent of state prisoners have a high school diploma.”  Education is important and very much overlooked because of how available it is. The United States use to be one of the best countries in education but in recent years the United States has slowly been falling down the list of most educated countries in 2018 according to Masters and More the United States ranked 14th in the world in education. This is discouraging as an American because we have the money, resources, and the time for education reform but our government refuses to fund something so fundamental to this country. According to Alliance for Excellent Education “There is an indirect correlation between educational attainment and arrest and incarceration rates, particularly among males, the report finds. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice, 56 percent of federal inmates, 67 percent of inmates in state prisons, and 69 percent of inmates in local jails did not complete high school. Additionally, the number of incarcerated individuals without a high school diploma is increasing over time.” Also meaning that if our government fixed our education system it would not only make a smarter society it will also keep fewer men in prison and more men in the workforce.

Compromise is something that dates back to the founding of the United States. Throughout early history in America when both ends of the aisle did not agree, both sides would meet in the middle and come up with some sort of compromise giving both parties something that each side wants. Now there is this political debate about which party is correct about very essential problems that are occurring in the United States. To others, criminals are the bottom of the bucket and don’t deserve rights. This ideology is inherently evil and goes against the fundamentals that government officials wish to preserve. Though most of the country should agree that people convinced of violent crimes need to be punished to the full extent of the law but saying nonviolent drug crimes should receive the same punish is preposterous. Prison’s are something that should be taken seriously and with the government expanding the federal prison system needs reform. Though ignoring the problem of prison reform seemly protects our country from people that want to do harm in the future it doesn’t protect the rights that prisoners are entitled to. According to the 8th amendment cruel and unusual punishment are not allowed in prisons and the 8th amendment is among the 10 amendments that make up the bill of right in the United States. The bill of rights are the founding concepts that were founded back with the constitution in 1787.

The fight to conserve the traditional style of small federal government roots from a greater argument to avoid tyranny, corruption, and economic downfall. Conserving tradition is not a bad thing and it should be encouraged nationwide and globally. The point is that the government is an entirely different entity from the belief of their country the United States was founded of this new ideology of freedom and the “pursuit of happiness”. The founding fathers knew any government that based their practice on traditions, cultural value, and/or monarchy would inevitably fail. Conserving tradition can be done individually and should not be implemented into any of our laws because it is systemically unfair.  

The government has a job to protect its citizens and enforce the law. According to the World Economics forum the government has 3 responsibilities, “Protect, provide, and Invest in talent” The United government has taken this basic understanding and expanded on the idea of government by expanding that it is becoming an increasing concern for many people. This concern is coming from a just point of view that should be apart of conversation when it comes to controversial laws, precedent or election if that matters. Prison reform is not as important as health care, gun control, or abortion because criminals are not as important as the Americans that are able to keep their freedom. Like conditions and unhealthy life that prisoners have to endure are not already bad. The United States is a beacon of freedom yet the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Meaning any person is more likely to be arrested in the United States than any other country in the world. Which is ironic because the beacon of freedom is throwing the most people into prison hence removing their freedom. The government cannot run away from this problem much longer. The more time that goes on, people become more informed and therefore this will become an even larger problem than it already is.

Expanding on the idea that as time goes on this problem would only get worse. The longer the United States waits on prison reform it makes the country that is supposed to be the beacon of freedom a weak position on incarceration on the world stage. The country that has been so influential over the last 50 years should have the equipment, brainstorm, and the budget to execute the obvious flaws in their justice system. Which raises the questions of  “Why don’t they fix the justice system?” but it is not to easy to get 535 people to agree on prison reform and not to mention the review to see if the law is constitutional. The process is tedious without a doubt but legislators in the past have made compromises with a bipartisan agreement and made laws and other programs to help the people of the United States. All in all lawmakers today do not make the same effort as the lawmakers of the past. People are more driven by ideology rather than compromise.

Minorities are still the most affected by the United States justice system. Ignoring the problem of racial injustice is flat out wrong and the government should be ashamed that the government is silencing people that minor nonviolent offenses. According to Prison Reform, “47% of the prison population is nonviolent crimes and about half of those are considered “petty crimes” such as small traces of heroin in clothing, marijuana offenses, and even tax evasion. This problem is large and when the government starts paying attention to prison reform the faster the people can heal as a country. Prisoners are people too and deserve their right to be not be treated cruelly and/or unusually.

References

Pfeifer , Robert S. U.S. Poverty Statistics. 2019, federalsafetynet.com/us-poverty-statistics.html.

2018, The Economist, The gap between poor and rich neighbourhoods is growing.

Haynes, Chrysse. “The First Step Act.” Equal Justice Under Law, 30 Aug. 2018, equaljusticeunderlaw.org/thejusticereport/2018/8/21/the-first-step-act-a-pros-and-cons-list.

Chapman-Allison, M. (2016). Disparities and systematic racism policies and practices related to healthcare reform, employment, and incarcerations: A multi-faceted analysis of contemporary experiences in the United States. Niagara University, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. doi:10127523

Hess, A. (2018, November 12). California is paying inmates $1 an hour to fight wildfires. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/14/california-is-paying-inmates-1-an-hour-to-fight-wildfires.html

Goss, J., & Hayes, J. (2018, February). California’s Changing Prison Population. Retrieved from https://www.ppic.org/publication/californias-changing-prison-population/

Johnson, H. (2017, March). California’s Population. Retrieved from https://www.ppic.org/publication/californias-population/

Highest to Lowest – Prison Population Total. (n.d.). Retrieved from

http://www.prisonstudies.org/highest-to-lowest/prison-population-total?field_region_taxonomy_tid=All

Tata, C. (n.d.). Reducing prison sentencing through pre-sentence reports? Why the quasi-market logic of selling alternatives to custody fails (4th ed., Vol. 57). Howard journal of crime and justice. doi:10.1111/hojo.12276

Sentencing and Prison Reform (1st ed., Vol. 7). (2017). Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection

Vasquez, A. E. (2007). The impact of aggressive priming, rumination, and frustration on prison sentencing(8th ed., Vol. 33). Aggressive behavior. doi:10.1002/ab.20203

J., Amos. (2013). Crime Rates Linked To Educational Attainment, 2013 Alliance Report Finds. Retrieved from

 

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