Public Policy Alternatives to Improve Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

S. General Accounting Office (GAO) estimates' in 1991 stated that nearly 30% of those incarcerated had used drugs daily in the month before committing the offense for which they were in prison. By the year 2003 there were approximately 6.9 million individuals either on probation, in mail, or in prison which equals 32% of all U.S. adults residents or 1 out of every 32 adults. (U.S. Bureau of Justice Corrections Statistics, 2003) There were a total of 1,470,045 inmates under State and Federal jurisdiction on the last day of the year of 2003 and 1,296,986 under controls of State jurisdiction and 173,059 under Federal jurisdiction. During the period of 1995 to 2003 the rate of growth of those incarcerated was 3.4% annually with population growth during the 12-moth period to end December 31, 3002 lower in state prisons than in local jails with the rise in state prisons being 1.4% and the rise in local jails being 3.9% while Federal prison populations rose 6.6%. (U.S. Bureau of Justice Corrections Statistics, 2003)

The United States "holds the dubious distinction of having the world's highest prison population" in the world. The rate of incarceration in U.S. prisons and jails was 1.86 million or 682 per 100,000 U.S. residents incarcerated in 1999. (Ruikar, 2001) the increasing tough public policy greatly contributes to the problem of overcrowding in prisons with such laws as" the three strikes and you're out." There is a great need for either the construction of more facilities to house prisoners or for a change in present public policies mandating incarceration on certain offenses. Furthermore, the need in separating men from women; juveniles from adults and those who are mentally or physically handicapped from the general population in prisons also highlights the vital need for additional facilities to house prisoners in. (Ruikar, 2001)

According to one report the state and federal prisons in the United States are presently experiencing rate of 33% than they are officially certified to house within their facilities. By June 2003 the total of prisoners in the United States was near the total of 2.1 million. (Montaldo, 2004) This increase was stated to be the largest increase in over four years. The inmates that are 18 years of age or younger is one the decline. By June 2003 there were 3,006 state prisoners, and 6,869 city jail detainees, which were under 18 years of age. (Montaldo, 2004) There were a total of 90,700 non-citizens being held in State and Federal correctional facilities at midyear of 2003, which was a 2.3% growth from the year prior to 2003.

The federal system alone held 170, 461 prisoners on June 30, 2003, which was more than any one state held in prisoners during the same time period. The rate of growth in the federal penitentiary system has been at a rate of 8% a year compared to state averages of 2.9%. Of those incarcerated in 2003 the following percentages were stated as to the race of the individuals:

White 43.6%

Black 39.2%

Hispanic 1.8%

Source: (Montaldo, 2004)

1980: The Rise of Incarceration Rates in the U.S.

The year of 1980 saw the beginning of a steady climb in incarceration rates in the United States. The current rate of incarceration is stated to be 450 sentenced prisoners for every 100,000 individuals in the U.S. The rates for those who are African-American are that of nearly 2,000 sentenced prisoners per the figure of 100,000 population. The crime rates are high in the United States but the rate of crime has not climbed as steadily as has the prison population. If the rate of crime hasn't changed then the consideration of what it is that has changed must be addressed. According to those who have researched the subject the change has been the United States public policy concerning who is to be incarcerated or not in relation to the crimes committed. Most of this was concerned with legislative policy due to changes in prosecution and sentencing guidelines propelled by the belief that all crimes are of a violent nature and that violent criminals should be locked up. However, the statistics do not show this to be the case. The Encyclopedia of Persons and Correctional Facilities report states that the U.S. "is one of the last remaining countries to practice capital punishment and one of the only countries anywhere that executes juveniles." (Bosworth, 2004) Furthermore, sentences are longer in the United States than in any other country in the world.

Statistics of Non-Violent Prisoners

According to the Justice Policy Institute, "Most of the growth in America's prisons since 1978 is accounted for by nonviolent offenders and 1998 is the first year in which America's prisons and jails incarcerated more than 1 million nonviolent offenders." The Justice Institute report relates that the costs associated with incarceration of more than one million nonviolent offenders is an astronomical figure. The 1978 combined prison and jail budgets were $5 billion and that amount had grown to $31 billion by 1997 with states spending more to build prisons than the build colleges and the combined budgets for jails and prisons for nonviolent offenders numbering 1.2 million is stated to "exceed the welfare budget for 8.5 million poor people last year." In other words, the nonviolent offenders in prison are living better than are the poor individuals on welfare.

Drug Offenders and Incarceration

In the year of 1984 the percentage of drug offenders in state prisons totaled 7.6% and this amount had tripled to 20.7% in 1998. Drug offender incarceration was the major factor in the overall growth of incarceration rates between 1984 and 1991. There were 19,600 drug offenders admitted to state prisons in 1984 and by 1998 the number was 107,000. Drug arrests rose from 1,010,000 in 1991 to 1,559,100 in 1998, which is suggested, to possibly represent political and legal enforcement priorities. Changes to policy in relation to sentencing are that which accounts for most of the growth witnessed in incarceration in the past few years. The costs of incarceration in prison facilities costs have increased to about $40 billion a year (p.25) Furthermore, the costs in terms of 'social costs' for those incarcerated and their families and the communities in which they live grow each year. (Gainsborough & Mauer, 2000) Stated is that, "while the removal of some criminal offenders can provide positive benefits, including supervision of young people, and other elements of informal social control. As more young people grow up with parents and siblings incarcerated and a view of time in jail as a normal aspect of one's life experience, the deterrent effect of prison is diminished as well." (Gainsborough & Mauer, 2000) the report states, "One out of every fourteen black children has a parent in state or federal prison."

Lasting impacts on the individual who has served time are the negative factors of:

Difficulty in finding work when the disadvantage of a criminal record is added to low educational attainment and limited job experience.

Inability to obtain some jobs because of licensing and other employment restrictions on ex-offenders

Breakup of families through divorce and denial of parent rights.

Loss of welfare benefits and education loans.

Loss of voting rights in many states, either temporarily or permanently (Gainsborough & Mauer, 2000)

Within this work is stated certain public policy implications with the approach outlined in the following:

Moratorium on Prison Construction: Implementation of a moratorium on new construction while alternative crime prevention and control measures are pursued.

Repeal Mandatory Sentencing: Mandatory sentencing laws should be reviewed and reconsidered as to whether the goals stated within them can be justified.

Diversion of Non-Violent offenders: Greater use of community supervision and resources could be employed to divert many of these offenders from prison.

Strengthen Juvenile Court: Provide the necessary resources to juvenile courts to handle all but exceptional cases within their jurisdiction.

Strengthen Probation and Parole: Probation and parole services require sufficient support and redesign so that they constitute effective alternatives to long-term incarceration and provide for offender transition to the community.

Reverse National Drug Policy: Laws that currently emphasize law enforcement over prevention and treatment should be reversed so that drug abuse is permanently addressed as a public health problem.

Build Strong Families and Communities: Policymakers should provide support for mental health services, education, job placement and other services and initiatives that strengthen community life and reduce crime. (Gainsborough & Mauer, 2000)

Alternatives to Incarceration

There have been suggested several alternatives to incarceration some of which are:

Privatization of Prisons.


Electronic monitoring.

Public policy changes in relation to sentencing and incarceration overall.

Public Policy

Privatization of governmental services has risen over the past ten years as agencies within the federal, local and state look for methods to save money and still adhere to the mandated rules for the provision of different services. According to one the Washington Policy Center…

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