A federal judge recently ordered the state of California to reduce their prison inmate population by 57,000. That would require a release of nearly one third of the inmates currently incarcerated. As of December 31, 2007 there were 2,293,157 people incarcerated throughout the country (in state and federal facilities and local jails). A study completed in 2008 determined that 1 out of every 100 adults are confined. While this order is currently going through an appeal, a solution must be arrived at.
The United States makes up 5% of the world’s population yet has a confinement rate of 25%. Mandatory sentencing was implemented in the 1980’s in order to fight the war on crime, and it has played a huge role in overcrowding. This has left the courts with little recourse when it comes to handing down a sentence, and judges are not allowed to take any underlying circumstances into account. A person can now receive more time for a drug offense than one who has been found guilty of manslaughter.
Numerous organizations have been battling to have the mandatory sentencing removed. Also joining the fight are police officers and Supreme Court Justices. The contention is that power has been removed from the courts. Whether or not the person is a first time offender has no bearing. The mandatory minimum is the same for everyone. Unless this law is recalibrated or done away with entirely, the prison population will continue to grow to an enormous number.
Although the state and federal governments are looking at the possibility of building new facilities, it has been statistically proven that a great deal of overcrowding could be eliminated with the release of those inmates that shouldn’t be there. Ridding the system of its trusties (ones with special privileges that can include working off the grounds), and those eligible for parole would not only free up space within our prisons, it would also free up some of the funds.
While the early release of trusties and certain prisoners with minor offenses may put some funds back into the government, it is important to realize that such a move would require the employ of more parole officers (PO’s). PO’s already have an immense caseload, and it would be ludicrous to release inmates to the street without properly controlled supervision.
With the current overcrowding of prisons, the states are failing in their responsibility to provide adequate health care and living conditions for inmates. As a result, inmates are now filing lawsuits and they are winning. And, win or lose, a lot of state funds are being used in order to hear these cases.
The states receive federal funds based on the number of inmates acquired in a fiscal year, not the number actually housed. One man was sent to a state prison for seventeen days, yet the prison received several thousand dollars in federal funding because his number appeared on the yearly roster. This is a clear misappropriation of funds. The state penal institutions need to undergo regular federal audits to assure that our tax dollars are being properly spent.
The states (particularly in the southwest) all house a high number of immigrants (both legal and illegal). Not only have they entered our country illegally, but also many of them have brought deadly diseases with them. One contagion that is most popular in the prison system is Tuberculosis (TB). Another, highly infectious agent is Chagas disease, caused by the protozoan parasite. If these inductees were tested prior to being dispersed into the prison population, health care costs could be cut dramatically. Additionally, the immigrants with minor offenses should be deported back to their home country. (They have, after all, violated their LPR or “green cards”). This would put millions of dollars back into the system.
The public needs to open their eyes to the real problems surrounding our prison system and stop regarding it as merely a lock-up for criminals. Your tax dollars are being spent to house these convicts. Wouldn’t you like to know that it’s being spent wisely?