Overcrowded and Under-Funded Prisons According Term Paper

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In the American Disease: Origins of Narcotic Control, David Musto notes that throughout the twentieth century, America's drug wars have regularly scape-goated minority groups, like the Chinese with opium, marijuana among the Mexicans, and cocaine among the African-Americans (McCormick 2000).

The National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals reported in 1973 that "the prison, the reformatory and the jail have achieved only a shocking record a failure. There is overwhelming evidence that these institutions create crime rather than prevent it," yet during the next two decades both state and federal legislatures implemented increasingly stiffer penalties and mandatory minimums claiming that prisons were an effective tool for crime control, and longer prison terms would reduce crime by deterring or incapacitating criminals (McCormick 2000). However, at the end of this period, after the average prison sentence had tripled and the prison population at more than quadrupled, a National Academy of Sciences report commissioned by the Reagan administration's Department of Justice asked: "What effect has increasing the prison population had on levels of violent crime? Apparently, very little" (McCormick 2000).

These decisions have resulted in filling U.S. prisons with large numbers of non-violent and drug offenders - over 50% in both state and federal prisons - at an annual cost of $20,000 or more for each incarcerated individual, even though there is increasing evidence that large-scale incarceration is not the most effective means of achieving public safety (Incarceration 2005).

Other critics point to special interests for the burgeoning prison-industrial complex. Politicians rely on "tough-on-crime" rhetoric to get elected and re-elected, while rural communities see prison construction as a boon to their local economy and employment rates (McCormick 2000). Other special interests groups include the swelling ranks of correctional officers, whose union support tough anti-crime policies that will ensure more prison jobs. Moreover, an increasing number of major corporations are profiting from the nearly $40 billion a year corrections boom, and a private prison industry that has gone from 11,000 to 140,000 beds in the last ten years and is now worth some $4 billion (McCormick 2000).

Researchers, such as Tonry and Currie, argue that tough penalties have little effect on crime rates. Studies that compare the punitiveness of different states, and studies that track the effect of longer prison terms on crimes rates, conclude that "to the extent that prison 'works,' it works only in dismayingly uneven and inefficient ways" (McCormick 2000). There have been modest decreases in the number of property crimes and robberies, but there has been "no overall decrease in serious criminal violence, and there have been sharp increases in many places - including many of the places that incarcerated the most or increased their rates of imprisonment the fastest" (McCormick 2000). In fact, on researcher notes, "the best that can be said about changes in homicide is that these rates were no worse in 1995 than in 1970 despite the addition of nearly one million prison inmates" (McCormick 2000).

While effects on overall and violent crime rates have been modest or negligible, overwhelming evidence indicates that criminal justice efforts to control the drug trade through interdiction and "drug busts" have been singularly ineffective (McCormick 2000). Although more than 400,000 persons are incarcerated for drug offenses, illegal drugs remain as or more available and inexpensive as they were two decades ago (McCormick 2000).

Author Jerome Miller argues that the "prison experiment" is not only ineffective, but is decidedly counter-productive and criminogenic. Recent studies suggest that an "increased emphasis on apprehending drug offenders is harmful to overall crime control efforts" because it detracts needed resources from other important law enforcement efforts (McCormick 2000). Moreover, an increasing reliance on incarceration has overwhelmed critical parole and probation programs "geared to the reintegration of offenders into society" (McCormick 2000). Furthermore, flooding U.S. prisons with low-level drug offenders who are required to sever out mandatory minimums has resulted in the early release of violent criminals back into the community. A 1992 Illinois study linked the huge increase in drug law enforcement in the state to the sharp rise in violent crime, because "greater numbers of violent criminals were released from prison early to make room for the surge of drug offenders" (McCormick 2000). According to Miller, America's war on drugs and crime have raised the levels of violence in the inner city and created an "oppositional culture" (McCormick 2000).

According to Currie, America's prison experiment has coincided with significant reductions in the nation's social safety net, and a weakening of the social compact with the very people and communities that are most threatened by crime and violence (McCormick 2000). After three decades of this corrections boom, the financial and physical divide between the rich and poor in the U.S. has steadily increased, "resulting in the largest income inequality of any industrialized democracy and the doubling of both the number and population of high-poverty neighborhoods" (McCormick 2000).

The doubling of the prison population in the 1980's was accompanied by significant cuts in Aid to Families with Dependent Children, in the Food Stamp program, in the child-nutrition and maternal/child health programs, in federal funds for day-care, and for training and employment programs (McCormick 2000). Between 1976 and 1989, state spending on corrections increased by 95%, while higher education declined by 6% and welfare dropped by 41%, and in 1991, for the first time in U.S. history, several major cities spent more on law enforcement than on secondary education (McCormick 2000). According to the National Criminal Justice Commission's 1996 report, "The result is that today among developed countries, the United States has the highest rates of incarceration, the widest spread of economic inequality, and the highest levels of poverty" (McCormick 2000). In California, then governor Gray Davis decreed that most government departments had to cut their budgets by 15%, including higher education and K-12 education, while at the same time planning a $335 million, 5,000 bed maximum security prison at Delano (Munoz 2006).

Although drug policies removed thousands of drug dealers from America's streets, they also created a huge and rapidly growing industry that must be funded by American taxpayers. The private sector is very involved in prison management, and prison privatization is one of the nation's top industries (Dickenson 1996). Some companies manage entire prisons, others specialize in particular operations such as health or food services, while manufactures provide necessary items, from uniforms and bedding to surveillance and monitoring equipment (Dickenson 1996). The prison population is expected to only increase, however even without growth, the current prison population will still be much more expensive to maintain in the future (Dickenson 1996). According to the February 1996 issue of American Demographics, "offenders who are in prison for drug-related crimes are more likely to have serious health problems...the prison population is also aging...these trends ill increase prisons health-care costs" (Dickenson 1996). Yet, these trends are dwarfed by the continuing consequences of tough sentencing laws, and until drug abuse stops or drug laws change, "the prison population bomb will keep ticking away" (Dickenson 1996).

As in many states, the Texas state prison system was so overcrowded during the 1970's that many units were operating at 200% of capacity with often five inmates to a two-person cell and others sleeping on hallway floors and outside in tents (Vogel 2004). By the mid-1990's, despite the largest and most expensive prison-building program in history, correctional facilities continued operating at or above rated capacities, and national and state economic problems mounted (Vogel 2004). Of those attending the 1999 International Association of Chiefs of Police conference, 33% named overcrowded facilities as the industry's greatest problem (Overcrowding 1999).

Although 47% felt that keeping sex offenders locked up was the best solution to deterring sex crimes, Daniel Crawford pointed out that "keeping sex offenders locked up presents a bit of a conundrum considering that our detention facilities are overflowing" (Overcrowding 1999).

While Canada imprisons 116 people per every 100,000, the United States incarcerates 702 people per 100,000 (Munoz 2006). The highest prison populations are California and Texas, each with over 160,000 inmates, while North Dakota has the lowest with 1,1112 (Munoz 2006). As of 2001, approximately 4.7 million people were either on probation or parole, resulting in some 7 million people under the jurisdiction of federal and state correctional programs (Munoz 2006). According to Dan Dunne, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Prison, the rate of incarceration has not gone up because of increased crime but because of changes at the federal level. Dunne notes, "there have been a great deal more federal investigations, prosecutions and convictions over the last 20 years, together with new legislation in the 1980's that enforced mandatory sentencing" (Munoz 2006). Marc Mauer, Assistant Director of the Sentencing Project, states, "There is a growing consensus among criminal justice researchers both in the U.S. And abroad that policy initiatives play a key role in determining the size and composition of a…[continue]

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