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Court records also stick on, whether the charges are dropped or followed by a conviction. People of color or ethnic minorities, such as African-Americans and Hispanics, have come to accept that they cannot avoid acquiring a criminal record. The 1990 Washington DC-based sentencing project found that one in every four African-Americans aged 20 to 29 was in prison, in jail or on probation or parole. A research conducted by the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives had a comparable finding. In a decade, the figure decreased to one out of three or 76% of 18-year-old African-Americans in the urban areas who can expect arrest and imprisonment before age 36. The racial gap became evident at the approach of the millennium. In 1926, 79% of inmates in state and federal prisons were whites and only 21% were Blacks. But in 1999, African-Americans made up 55-60% of new admissions. Including Latino inmates, records show that three out of four Americans sentenced to federal and state prisons belonged to minority groups. The new attitude on going tough with criminals actually referred to black criminals without the need to mention the race. Prisons and jails brimming with a million Black young men rather than embarrass, seem to have become an indispensable ingredient in the smooth operation of American democracy and economy (Miller).
Many people view the overcrowding of prisons and jails and the expensive confinements, which replace them as indicative of a failing criminal justice system in American society and as something that must be re-examined (Mitchell 2005). Studies have shown that incarceration is the most ineffective, expensive and inhumane feature of this criminal-justice system and yet continues to expand and is over-funded. With an exploding prison population, the U.S. has exceeded the rate of incarceration of both China and Russia. A further irony is that 70% of inmates return to jail as the national average. Studies conducted by the American Bar Association also revealed that prison and jail unduly and disproportionately affect communities of color. This seems to be the reason why incarceration is the only public project, which receives massive support and resources despite glaring and horrifying realities about it (Mitchell).
Approaches or Solutions - The original idea, which was abandoned for years, was for a prison to serve as rehabilitation, not as a place of retribution and this is now being revived (Bates 2006). Conservative sectors believe that new efforts should be installed to keep people out of jail but if they go in, they should be helped to leave and not return. These sectors see this as the only real solution to overcrowding and a healthy society. This is why there has been growing interest in rehabilitation programs and reentry initiatives. The issue of recidivism was tackled by President Bush in his 2004 State of the Union Address, wherein he stressed that the 600,000 inmates then scheduled for release should be given a second chance to a better life. U.S. House Representative Robert Portman of Ohio's second district seeks to increase support for prisoners during and after incarceration. Reintegration must start before they leave prison. The National Institute of Justice said that around 60% of former inmates could not get employed after one year and that 15-27% of them expect to go home to homeless shelters. One more issue that must be address in reintegrating was substance abuse. The finding of a study conducted by the Re-Entry Policy Council said that three out of four inmates released had substance abuse problem, yet only 10% of them received assistance while in jail to overcome it (Bates).
The Peumansend Creek regional jail near Bowling Green in Virginia set an example in preparing non-violent offenders to re-enter society (Bates 2006). It is a minimum and medium security jail, which works to provide greater support to inmates when they are released. An example was Laura Wood, who was incarcerated for possession of illegal drugs, for forgery and grand larceny, and was later sent to Peumansend Creek to retrace her balance. Jail superintendent Sandra Thacker has 27 years of correctional administration and said that it is familiar with the way most correctional facilities deal with prisoners. She said Peumansend Creek addresses the problem of recidivism through its industry program. The program was the first in the U.S. To be accredited by the American Correctional Association. Its services include shoe-resoling, embroidery, silk screening, printing banners, hygiene kits, woodworking, work crew operations and an agriculture program (Bates).
Representative Robert Scott from Virginia's second district and ranking member of the house judiciary committee said that only a slight shift in funding could be needed to create these badly-needed reentry programs but they would be certainly be a better investment than longer sentences (Bates 2006). He noted that a 10% increase to prison sentences in his State alone would cost an estimated $4.5 million more. The additional financial burden would have very little crime deterrent impact and should be spent instead on youth development programs or re-entry initiatives for prison and jail inmates when released (Bates).
Looking for workable solutions to the problem of overcrowding in American prisons and jails may also need an adjustment of viewpoint. Some take the symbolic view, which interprets overcrowding as the result of too many arrests and sees current operational systems are defective (Beck 2001). Taking the non-symbolic angle brings the focus on how the system operates and the slow pace of changes or evolution of laws and legal thinking. Law schools teach and discuss the intricacies of the law. It must be considered that the teaching of justice system management skills is not a school objective, thus, information, which can otherwise contribute to a change in the local legal culture at the grassroot level is ignored. Likewise, law schools do not stimulate an early formative awareness of managerial techniques, which future lawyers will clearly need in their climb to positions, which will influence the justice system. There certainly are proponents of change outside the school environment but they must oppose the strong torrent of influence of the local and already existing legal culture (Beck).
Incarceration exacts overwhelming financial and social costs to house prisoners in an abnormal social environment, which ironically inhibits their rehabilitation, personal growth and capability for normal social interaction (iSECUREtrac 2004). Realistic alternatives should quickly introduce offenders into the general population and offer them opportunity for productive social development, help maintain family structures, and decrease financial and social costs to taxpayers who shoulder these costs. iSECUREtrac aims at accelerating the use of remote tracking and monitoring technologies, which combine GPS and wireless technologies to reduce society's reliance on incarceration as a solution to social problems. It also endeavors to improve law enforcement's ability to protect the general public reduce the cost of law enforcement. ISECUREtrac is a full service provider of Globe Positioning System offender tracking, RF house arrest and remote alcohol testing solutions. Its systems are specifically designed and engineered for use in community supervision and correctional applications, such as probation, parole, work release and pre-trial. These systems have been tested, proven and perfected on thousands of offenders in North America and the United Kingdom. These have been found to be the most powerful, most durable and easiest to use in the market. Founded in 1995, it began delivering passive GPS tracking and monitoring systems in 2002. The demand for its products and services is increasing on account of their advanced features, reliability and low operational cost (iSECUREtrac).
Japan has been noted as having the lowest crime rates in the world, with only 5% of its people convicted to serve prison terms in comparison to 30% of the U.S. (Jon 2004). Japan uses a policy called re-integrative shaming, wherein the criminal who appears in court with family members, friends, bosses, co-workers and others condemn the offending behavior. These people form themselves into a community support structure, which later takes the responsibility of reintegrating the offender into society and the community. This mechanism makes the rebuilding of social bonds and deterring of further criminal acts. A voluntary network of more than half a million local crime prevention associations assists in the reintegration process and, at the same time, encourages the criminal justice system to be lenient for the purpose. Experience shows that the policy works effectively. Americans have been spending massively on current policies, which have already proven to be ineffective and should, therefore, try another system, which works. If the Japanese gave American automotive manufacturers a surging wake-up call in the industry, re-integrative shaming may be the solution to the overcrowding problem in America's federal and state prisons and jails. It will help to look at this problem more closely and honesty to see how various industries have actually profited from this disguised and shameful modern-day slavery of "free" people. The public must take a sterner stand on the issue (Jon) and take the cue from Japan (Jon).
1. Bates, D. (2006). Policy Makers Working to Find a Solution…[continue]
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