MassIncarceration in the United States, Germany and Japan: A Comparisonof causes and policy implications
TheU.S population represents just five percent of the world’s people.Nonetheless, the number of inmates is about twenty-five percent ofthe global individuals behind bars despite that crime has presentlyreached the lowest level (Lee, 2015). According to the WorldPopulation List, a report compiled by the International Center forPrison Studies, UK, the U.S had the highest rate of incarcerationinternationally. In particular, the prison population was 716 inevery 100,000 people (Walmsley, 2013). The large number of inmatesmakes the confinement facilities overcrowded, thus, uncomfortable tothe inmates. Besides, the system hurts the taxpayers’ financessince it is funded using public money. According to Lee (2015), oneof the reasons the U.S has numerous prisoners is the lack of awell-developed social service system. As a result, individuals whoare fit for non-institutionalized centers end up behind bars. Drugaddicts and the homeless, for instance, deserve being held innon-institutionalized facilities, but they are locked up in regularprisons since the rehabs are rarely available. David Garland, the lawand sociology professor at the New York University, proposesestablishment of more government institutions providing social,penal, welfare and policing services to decrease the number of peoplewho are locked up. Dammer and Albanese (2014) add that recidivism,the length of sentences, and inadequate resources to cater for theneeds of the prisoners when they are inside, as well as outside jaillead to mass imprisonment. Given that the high population of inmatesis straining the budget of the underfunded confinement centers,investigators began looking at the possible reasons that make otherdeveloped nations such as Germany and Japan have low crime andincarceration rates. Walmsley (2013) reported that Germany had aninternment rate of seventy-nine individuals in every 100,000 people.On the other hand, Japan’s incarceration rate was fifty-one peoplein every 100,000 citizens. Recent studies indicate that the US systememphasizes on punishing offenders instead of rehabilitating them(Mauer, 2011). This study will examine the type of programs theUnited States use to reform and reintegrate the prisoners into thesociety. Furthermore, it will compare and contrast the laws,policies, strategies and rehabilitation programs that are applied inGermany and Japan criminal justice systems that are efficient inmaintaining low imprisonment rates. The study will be essential tothe administrators in charge of rehabilitation in the United States.It will educate them on effective measures that are applied in modelcountries that have low prison population.
Thesisstatement:This study provides an analysis of mass incarceration in the UnitedStates through summarizing the criminal justice system features,including, sentencing policies for nonviolent crimes, existing plansfor reintegrating offenders into the society, and then comparing themwith the successful models used in Germany and Japan, which aredeveloped nations with low imprisonment rate.
Can reducing punishment for nonviolent crimes help to reduce the rate of incarceration rate?
Which policies can be adopted from model developed nations with low imprisonment rate can aid to decrease the population of inmates in the US prisons.
Can rebuilding respect between the community help to decrease the number of people behind bars?
Do giving ex-nonviolence offenders second chances help them to improve their behaviors and avoid internment?
Accordingto Travis, Western, and the National Research Council (U.S.) (2014),the U.S experienced an extended period of stability between the 1920sand 1970s. Nonetheless, crime escalated drastically from the lateseventies thereby, necessitating the country to introduce strictpenal codes. Subsequently, the new regulations have seen the numberof inmates increase over five times within the last four decades. Thestudy also observes that the incarceration rate has increased so muchthat it exceeds the social benefits the Americans receive. The 2.2million adult prisoners have become a burden to the taxpayers sincethe facilities are financed using public resources. The researchersattribute the war on drugs, racism, and the free economic systems ofthe United States as some of the principal causes of the massinternment in the country.
Dammerand Albanese (2014) add that the American correction system focuseson punishment. This means that all sorts of criminals, including drugaddicts, are locked up instead of being taken tonon-institutionalized facilities for rehabilitation services.However, the investigators add that the rehabilitation centers arerarely available in the U.S. The researchers use the case study ofGermany that focuses on social reintegration of the offenders toprove that the strict punishment accorded to the offenders could bethe primary cause of the mass incarceration. Lee (2015) also supportthat the deterrence crime approach is a leading cause of massincarceration since the administrators focused on introducingstricter gun control measures, improving the policing strategies,relying on locking up of offenders and recruiting more policeofficers to deal with the lawbreakers. Nevertheless, researchers havebeen lobbying for the transformation of the policies the Americanjustice system is using presently. One of the main recommendations isadopting a more compassionate structure that focuses onrehabilitating offenders instead of punishing them. As expected, theproposal has faced major opposition among different parties.
Nevertheless,it is possible to suppress crime even without using extreme punitivemeasures. For example, German correction facilities ensure theinmates are comfortable behind bars, yet the nation has among theleast recidivism. According to Whitaker (2015), German prisons arenot intended to punish the offenders. Instead, they represent regularlife. The inmates have several privileges such as individual cells,excellent social amenities, video games and organized sports.Furthermore, the prisoners can decorate their cells and clad instreet outfits, as well as retain several household objects thatguards in American prisons would otherwise deem dangerous to theconvicts. Whitaker reported that majority of the German prisoners whoare sentenced to life imprisonment are often acquitted after twodecades. Joerg Jesse, a psychologist and a director of prisons inMecklenburg-Western Pomerania State of Germany, asserts that theGerman correction system acquit even murders since its purpose isrehabilitating offenders instead of subjecting them to retribution. Jesse gave an example of Bernd Junge, a hired assassin who was behindbars because of shooting a woman to death. He informed that theprisoner would be exonerated of his offenses after serving a minimumtwenty years in prison. Jesse explains further that the Germanspolicies do not allow internment of individuals in their entire life.As such, the inmates are trained different ways that they can handletheir life outside without causing further harm to the society. Thefriendly environment in prisons prepares them for reintegration inthe community.
Japanis another model rehabilitation system with a record incarcerationrate of fifty-one inmates per 100,000 citizens. One might wonder thereason the nation has such a low internment pace yet it is adeveloped and densely populated state. Besides, it adopted the U.Sjustice system model after the World War II. The primary disparity isthat the country has over the years developed the rehabilitationsystem to incline more on humaneness, diversity, and efficiency.According to Johnson (2006), the major reasons that make Japan tohave low crime rate include the high respectaccorded to the authority, homogenous population, and superiordiscretion accorded to the prosecutors and law enforcers. The police,for instance, have the power to decide if a case is worth proceedingto the prosecution level. In case the arrestingofficers are unable to determine if the offender deservesprosecution, they might arrest or just let the offender be aftergathering the evidence that is forwarded to the prosecutor to help insolving the case. Amazingly, a violator who has committed anon-serious offense, which could be prosecuted and even result in ajail term, might be set free after just admitting guilt orapologizing to the wronged party.Similarly, most convicts incarcerated for less than a year and forthe first time are qualified for a suspended sentence, which meansthey remain in the community where they are expected to receivefamily and society support to help them in the rehabilitationprocess. It is worth noting that approximately 50% of the Japaneseinmates serve suspended sentence. Inmates in Japan are offered a widevariety of treatment programs behind bars such as psychotherapy,vocational, educational and group interaction activities (Johnson,2006). The lessons are essential as they train the individuals torelate professionally with the civilians after they are released. Onthe other hand, the vocational training ensures that the inmates willhave better chances of employment once they complete the sentences.
ReducingPunishment for Nonviolent Crimes
Severalcases in the United States are guided by the ‘mandatory minimumsentencing,’ which implies that individuals who are prosecuted forspecific crimes must spend certain time behind bars. The judges,prosecutors and attorneys do not have the power to reduce thesentences because the constitution stipulates laws that fit violatorsof certain nature. Forexample, non-violent criminals accused of offenses such as possessionof crack and powdered cocaine could receive a life jail terms(Haerens, 2010).In 2015, for instance, Barack Obama, the outgoing U.S President,decreased the sentences of imamates who were jailed between 1992 and2008. Some of them were serving life imprisonment for non-violentwrongdoings, particularly, commercial distribution of crack cocaine(Yuhas, 2015). The mandatory minimum sentencing laws and the threestrike policies guide judges in handing the unrealistic sentencestherefore, resulting in mass incarceration since the system does notoffer alternativecorrectionapproach apart from the deterrent approach. Adjusting therehabilitation policies used in the United States can help decreasethe mass incarceration. For example, Germany releases the hardcorecriminals, for instance, murderers after they serve a minimum oftwenty years behind bars. Furthermore, most non-violent offenders areallowed to remain in the community. Similarly, the Japaneserehabilitation system has such a low imprisonment rate because over50% of non-violent offenders with no prior criminal record servesuspended sentences. Besides, the cases of several other people nevereven reach the prosecution level since the offender may be releasedeither by the law enforcer or the prosecutor upon apologizing to thevictim or just admitting wrongdoing and promising never to repeat theoffence (Johnson, 2006). In the United States, the police,prosecutors and the judges have minimal power decide on the outcomeof the cases. In fact, the constitution defines uniform punishmentfor offenders who are involved in certain offenses through themandatory minimum sentences. If new policies that would allowdecreasing minimum imprisonment time for nonviolent crimes wereavailable, the problem of mass incarceration in the nation coulddecrease.
Typesof Crimes That Occur In US, Germany and Japan
Generally,most of the three states experience similar types of crimes.Nevertheless, the major differences that result in mass incarcerationin the U.S, but a small margin of imprisoned individuals in Japan andGermany respectively, are the rehabilitation policies. According tothe Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), crimes rates, as wellas their nature, is comparable to the ones experienced in the UnitedStates. Based on the latest crime analysis, violent crimes reducedfell by 5.3% in 2013 when compared to 2012. Nevertheless, pickpocketing and residential property offenses surged by 15.6% and 3.5%in the same period. Going by the Police Crime Statistics of thestate, burglary and theft are the major crimes in the country, whichrepresents 40% of all the offenses committed. The crimes in theirorder of recurrence include shoplifting, vehicle break-ins, bicyclethefts, stealing in storage spaces, offices and workshops,housebreaks, thievery of cashless payment systems, and automobilethievery (Germany 2015 crime and safety report, 2016).
Accordingto the Japan 2016 crime & safety report, the level of crimes inJapan is substantially lower than in the U.S. Majority of the crimesvandalism, individual disputes and theft. Non-violent crimes such asstolen identity and cashing from stolen credit cards are common.Furthermore, petty crimes such as pick pocketing are frequent intrain stations, airports, crowded public places, and nightclubs.Violent crimes, however, are rare in Japan (Japan 2016 crime &safety report, 2016).
Goingby the FBI (2015) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) data,some of themajor offenses recorded in 2014 included 1,165,383violent crimes (aggravated assaults, murder, robberies, meditatedhomicides and rapes). Second, 8,277,829 were reported in the sameyear. The offences included automobile thefts, burglaries, andlarceny-thefts. The victims suffered financial losses exceeding $14.3billion. Nevertheless, most of the arrested offenders were accused ofvarious drug abuse and violations, driving under influence (DUI) andlarceny-theft respectively. In 2015, new trends of crimes werereported including cyber crimes, human trafficking and hate crimes.
Accordingto the FederalMandatory Minimums (2013), non-violent offences such as possessiondrugs such as marijuana (1000Kg), heroin (1kg), cocaine (5kg), crackcocaine (280g), LSD (10g) and meth (50g), with the intention ofcommercial distribution earns an individual incarceration of not lessthan ten years. A second offence would see an individual jailed for aterm of not less than twenty years. Nonetheless, the third timeresults in a life imprisonment. These laws were created in the mideighties, and are also known as the three strike laws. In the 1990s,the U.S passed strict laws against murder crimes, which mostlyincludes either death of life incarceration. Other common crimes thatmay result in life behind bars include piracy, trafficking of gunsand nuclear material among others (Federal Mandatory Minimums, 2013).
Whilethe sentences are very long and harsh in the USA, most of the seriousoffenders in Germany serve at least twenty years and the individualsare deemed suitable for reintegration into the society. A noteworthyobservation is that drug trafficking laws may result in lifetimeincarceration in the U.S while Germany have rehabilitation systemswhere the users are taken to help them in the recovery from drugabuse (Dammer & Albanese, 2014 Travis et al., 2014). Thetraffickers are jailed for short periods that would not exceed twentyyears in spite of its severity.
Finally,Japan has a lenient system, especially when dealing with non-violentcrimes such as drug trafficking and piracy. The defendant can bereleased after pleading guilty or even apologizing to the public forengaging in drug distribution business. Although life imprisonmentis available, the penalty is rarely used. Over 50% of the criminalsinvolved in petty offences, particularly for the first time servesuspended sentences. They stay in the community and without official supervision (Johnson, 2006).
Comparisonof the Correctional Systems
Germanyand Japan correction systems are comparable since they focus on therehabilitation of inmates instead of subjecting them to punishment.It is also worth noting that they assign short incarceration terms toall convicts irrespective of the nature of offenses. The inmates havea lot of freedom such as the permission to decorate their cells,wearing street wear and being in possession of several domesticpossessions that would otherwise be considered illegal in Americanprisons. The level of individual supervision in the German prisons islower compared to the United States. Furthermore, the level ofviolence, especially between the guards and the prison security isvery low. In The U.S, prisoners are supposed to wear uniform that isunique to each facility, and in some cases it is determined by thenature of offence one has committed. Civilian clothes are not allowedin the American facilities. Besides, at least two inmates share onecubicle as opposed to the Germany where prisoners have personalrooms.
Inthe case of Japanese prisons, over 50% of offenders serve suspendedsentences. Unlike in the United States where individual inmates areclosely monitored, the convicts have little supervision. It is worthnoting that the society shoulders the responsibility of helpingoffenders in the recovery process thus, the reason over 50% of thepetty criminals serve suspended sentences. It is worth noting thatJapanese correction system focuses on rehabilitation of inmates justlike the German prisons. On the contrary, the US prisons specializein retribution. As such, the sentences are long and harsh. Nonviolentcriminals may receive life incarceration or even death penalties.Japan correction service differs from the United States in that evenserious offenders can be set free upon accepting guilt. The culturegives high value to an apology unlike in the United States where ithas no value. Moreover, the police and the prosecutors can decide ifa case can proceed to prosecution. However, only judges andmagistrates can determine if a case deserves proceeding to fullprosecution.
PolicyRecommendations to Reduce Mass Incarceration in the United States
Reduce the sentence for nonviolent criminals – Several nonviolent crimes in the U.S such as piracy and drug peddling can result in life or death penalty. If the country can adopt short sentences such as the ones used Germany and Japan, the number of inmates would reduce drastically. Besides, suspended sentences can further lessen the number of prisoners (Haerens, 2010).
Rebuilding the respect between the community and the law enforcers – In Japan, the community respects the law enforcers to the extent that a police officer can solve a case without necessitating a prosecution process. Similarly, the respect between the law enforcers and the community makes it possible for the correction system to entrust the society to aid offenders in the recovery process. If a similar policy is applied in the U.S, it would help to decrease the nonviolent offenders would not need to be jailed. Instead, their correction can be entrusted to the community members (Johnson, 2006).
Increase the rehabilitation centers – The German and Japanese correction systems focus on rehabilitation of the offenders, which, in turn, decreases the rate of recidivism. If the United States can invest in the rehabilitation facilities that would mainly target the nonviolent offenders (Whitaker, 2016).
Themass imprisonment in the United States can be attributed to a penalsystem that focuses on the retribution of offenders. For example, aperson who is caught trafficking drugs, especially for commercialpurposes may be incarcerated from ten years to life. Fortunately, thepolicies can be adjusted to match the rehabilitation services offeredin Japan and Germany. Furthermore, decreasing the sentences allocatedto the non-violent offenders should be reviewed such that pettythieves can serve suspended sentences. Although the Japanese systemmay not be suitable for the USA correction system, multiple policiesthat are used in the state can help to eliminate the massincarceration challenge in the United States. For example,Rehabilitation systems and empowering the police as well as theprosecutors such that they can determine the merit of a caseproceeding to full prosecution would be essential.
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