NegativeAspects of the United States Prison System
Therate of incarceration, in the United States of America, is thehighest in the world. The percentage of inmates in the countrysurpasses even that of countries like Cuba, Russia, Rwanda andBelarus. It is ironic that although the country’s population isonly 5% of the total global population, over twenty five percent ofthe world’s prisoners are from the United States. Approximately4500 prisoners in New York alone are subjected to isolation withoutreasonable interactions with others or mental stimulation, locked upin the small deserted cells 23 hours per day. Even the recreationprovided in the jails does not provide any relief. The “recreation”is always one single time in an open outdoor enclosure that is ofalmost the same size as the cell. There are no breaks for any programor classes during the day. No one is allowed even to make a phonecall. One is allowed to have few personal belongings. In the end, theprisoners are left languishing in abject isolation throughout thesentence.
Althoughmost people are not concerned with what happens inside the prisons,it affects the lives of every citizen however much it may appear tobe remote. For instance, the experiences from the prisons have a lotof effects on the safety of the public. In New York in particular,out of 56000 individuals are incarcerated 25000 are likely to be setfree within a year and return to society. The release means they arecarrying home some of the experiences they acquired while in prison(Crawley 351). This aspect necessitates checking on the backgroundof incarceration in the United States America, the problems faced inthe jails, why the strategies set failing to address the problems andsome of the impacts of the issues.
ExcessiveUse of Force
NewYork City Legal Aid Society has made relentless efforts using itsproject named the Prisoners’ Rights to fight for the rights of theprisoners. Specifically, the body has struggled with the issue ofusing excessive force within the New York prisons. They have donethis by carrying out individual and status litigation andinvestigations and requesting the administration to redress some ofthe policies on behalf of the harassed inmates. The society, afterthe twenty years of litigation, learned that the forces in control ofthe jails are supposed to offer correctional leadership. When theprison administration makes visible moves committed to deal withcases of energy misuse and hold employees accountable, chances thatthe inmates will be brutalized are eliminated. However, when theadministration ignores the misconducts by tolerating use of excessforce, ignoring the false reports, and coming up with inadequatepunishments when certain aspects of brutality are detected itconfirms to the staff members that the only way they can controltrouble within the cells is through beating up the prisoners (Boston2).
Thepublicity on the jail conditions in Abu Ghraib in Iraq has sparkedreactions from the general public. Individuals are asking questionson whether what is happening in prison is the same as what theprisoners in the United States are experiencing. It is evident thatthe conditions in that jail are the same terms in the prisons in theUnited States although in a less unusual form. The recent cases ofexcessive force have portrayed a similar pattern which is related toactual and assumed challenges within the staff administration.
Oneof such incidences is the mass retaliation after the disruption ofthe prison activities. One of such occurrences happened after theprisoners uprising in the Attica Correctional Facility in 1971. Suchoccasions occur recurrently if not frequently. The gauntlet beatingsof the inmates like in the Attica incidence is an ordinary happeningin the American jails. There are also cases of individualizedpunishments in which only prisoners are subjected to torture becauseof actual or suspected disruption of the day to day operations, ordisrespectful behavior towards the prison employees. In some of thesimilar incidences, there has been the need for the staff to useforce in initial stages but the punishment not imposed. However,after a period, when the use of strength has become needless, theinmate is usually exposed to retaliatory harassment. In otherinstances, prisoners can be beaten for raising genuine complaintsabout the conditions of the prison or being denied essential services(Boston 3). Prisoners have raised complaints about being taken toholding pens after conflicting with part of the employees andthoroughly beaten from there. Unfortunately, individuals with mentaldisabilities are the most vulnerable to be subjected this wayespecially when their illnesses make them act in an aggressive oroffensive way.
Thereis also the use of excessive force in the attempt to control theviolent conduct of the prisoners. Last but not least, officers resortto uncalled for force in their attempt to suppress acts ofdisobedience that are not necessarily violent.
Prisonersin the United States of America live in small confined rooms live inextreme isolation. They are in a world of relentless monotony. Idleness always characterizes their life, and they are cut off fromany form of social life and interaction. They are not able tointeract and see others (Kim et al. 28). They cannot go out to theyard or the shower. The liberty of carrying out personal activitiesis not there, and inmates do not feel like they are humans.
WhyAmerica has failed to Deal with the Crime Rates
Despitethe many strategies that are in place, the level of incarceration hascontinued to increase daily. From the studies carried out, there areseveral reasons as to why the administration is unable to curb therate of incarceration.
Oneof the reasons is the absence of flexible and individualized rules.Currently, there are mandatory sentencing regulations and laws. TheCongress enacted the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, in 1986. The act aimed atcreating the 5 to 10-year compulsory punishment for offenses onimportation and distribution of any illegal drugs. The federalgovernments have the authority to penalize the accomplices who areassociated with drug crimes irrespective of the role they played inthe offense. Such sentencing laws limit the powers of the judiciaryand prevent the judges from checking on the overall mitigatingfactors in the profile of the defendant like the role he played inthe case and the potentiality of him committing the same offense infuture.
Anotherreason is the failure of the state to reduce the “three-strike”laws strategically for individuals involved in non-violent crimes.These laws were passed in 1993 to deal with violent offenses intwenty-six states. However, California went a step higher andincluded the minor and non-violent crimes in the bracket which comealong with a 25-year life in prison penalty. Consequently, over 4000prisoners in the state of California are currently serving thissentence due to third strike crimes that were not even violent orcritical.
Thelow-income communities are also unable to access an equal share ofthe federal aid due to prison gerrymandering. There are a lot offlaws in the manner in which the Census Bureau counts the inmates.The problem results in total interruption of representation at thelocal and national levels and establishes an inaccurate picture forfunding, research and planning policies for the community.
Afull and stable domestic policy objective of employment is alsomissing. In fact, from the studies, over 60 percent of thoseincarcerated were living below the average percentage of the povertyline at the time of their incarceration. Sociologists had alsoconfirmed that 70 percent of the inmates were not employed when theywere arrested. This picture makes it clear that the rate ofunemployment and poverty levels directly increase the likelihood ofone to be imprisoned.
Thepresence of the for-profit, private prison organizations is alsoanother reason why the strategies that are in place have terriblyfailed. These firms entirely depend on the increasing rates ofincarceration for their survival. For example, the CorrectionsCorporation of America is one of the most successful private ownerand operator of prisons admitted that its expansion entirely relieson its ability to win the contracts to develop and maintain thecorrectional and facilities of detention. Besides, the educationprograms in prisons are inadequate there are no incentives for firmsto employ ex-convicts and the policing efforts within the communityare low.
Impactof using Force in Prison and Isolation
Effect of Isolation
Immenseconfinement in the jail cells has been associated with anguish andpain mentally. The condition leads to critical effects. Even in caseswhere individuals are mentally stable, they start manifesting adversepsychological impacts. The same treatment ravages people who alreadyhave known mental complications. The situation deteriorates terriblysometimes to the extent that they end up mutilating their bodies andeven committing suicide. Individuals that were out of prison whenasked about their experiences in jail, they narrated about theirinteractions on the social grounds, the activities and the programsin their life structure. The prison environment ideally affects theaspect of social interaction among individuals. They are expected toquietly sit in a capsule space in a cell with little contact withhumans or using friendly conversation (Crawley 355). They feel likethey do not matter.
Theaspect also has adverse implications on the relationships to theextent of breaking them. The family bond is broken. The isolationfrom the beloved family members and friends can be a traumaticcondition that can implicate the correctional process. Studies haveindicated that prisoners who maintain contact with the individualsthey love are not in the offing to recidivate once they are set free.The experiences also make people focus on themselves. They shift fromconstructively channeling their focus to their goals since theycannot access educational programs, vocational and the correctionalprograms. The little progress that they were making even when theywere in the general prisons is also brought to a standstill. They areunable to learn new trades, deal with drug abuse and management ofthe anger. In most cases, the delicate gains are entirely lost.
Thefact that they have little to do and they cannot go anywhere makesthe prisoners see time as if it is collapsing on itself. Thedifference between day and night does not make any meaning to them.The sleeping patterns become strange and erratic (Crawley 358). Thepsyche of the inmates is also corroded. This condition results inanxiety, rage, withdrawal and rapidly turns to depression.
Impact of Use of Excessive Force
TheAbu Ghraib torture of prisoners sparked activists to collect moreevidence about the same. Currently, the condition has transformedafter much information from video tapes leaking to the public.Researchers went ahead to identify some of the effects that theseacts bring to the inmates.
Mostof these brutal acts can cause permanent physical and psychologicalmarks and even death in extreme cases. In the incidences where thewardens choose to include toxic chemicals in their brutal acts onprisoners, it is apparent that serious physical configurations willoccur as a result of the burns and the corrosion of the skin surface(Crawley 361). In some cases, victims succumb to death. Most of theprisons even do not take care of the patients after causing wounds ontheir bodies. In some cases, the jails avail medical attention thatis too little or when it is too late.
Insome of the units, the officers may use dogs which are let loose tothe prisoner in an enclosed pen. When the dogs savage on thedetainee, they cause so much pain and can even make them loose limbsor other body parts. When prisoners are beaten ruthlessly with kicks,they are likely to sustain fractures and cuts which can quicklybecome worse in case they are left untreated. They can rot, and theprisoner may lose some of the affected body parts. Some of theprisons are too inhumane to the level of amputating the body partwithout anesthesia. One of the routine torture used in the Americanprisons with the utilization of the cattle prod causes severe damagesto the brain.
Thereare certain experiences in life that cannot be obliterated from aperson’s mind. Most of these brutal acts are done in the face ofthe fellow inmates. Prisoners who witness their colleagues torturedto death are always left with fear and anxiety, and they are likelyto be prone to hallucinations or hit by a permanent shock.Psychological and social complications are also common among theex-convicts who have been subjected to conditions that resulted inbrain injury and trauma. The condition is always characterized by achange in character traits, being disoriented, confused and impairedmemory. A person who was tortured may not be able to interact withindividuals that are close to him freely (Crawley 362). The conditionis a result of such factors like low self-esteem and dull emotionalreactions. Excessive use of force on prisoners may change theprisoner’s lifestyle or not. This shift could be due to the broadview of life. In the majority of the cases, they are likely to hardenand become intransigent criminals compared to how they were initiallybefore being arrested. A tendency of hating law enforcers alsodevelops and all they wish is to relate with individuals who areoffenders and rebels in the society. The original relationship theyenjoyed with the relatives and close friends also deteriorates due tothe feeling of being unwanted. At times, they may portray weirdbehavior like screams, wails, nightmares and even try to fight backsince they already have episodes of their lives in their minds. They,therefore, prefer living a lonely life.
Strategiesthat can Reduce Incarceration Rates in the United States of America
Whenit comes to reducing cases of imprisonment, I believe the reformsimplemented in Finland can provide an excellent platform forbenchmarking when it comes to reducing incarceration. Finland hassuccessfully adopted some strategies in the area of criminal justicewithout increasing the crime rates. In fact, in the 1950s, the rateof incarceration at that time was higher than that of the UnitedStates (Weiss et al. 276). The country came up with three factorsthat had the potentiality of reducing the incarceration rates inFinland. First, the state came up with an exceptional climate inwhich strictness was not determined using the same scales that areused in the Nordic countries. The country also came up with a solidpenal system that was characterized a high number of minimumsentences. The last move was the aspect of brutal sentencing actionsfor ordinary crimes, like driving under the control of drugs. Thesechanges are mainly attributed to the reduced incarceration rates inthe country. It is essential for the policy makers in the UnitedStates to change their ideologies when it comes to criminal justice.This mentality will act as a catalyst in the realization of thestrategies.
Theadministration should recognize the limited abilities of thetraditional justice systems and the general inability to validate theexceptionally increased rates as a starting point towards the goal.The government should also introduce the aspect of community serviceas a form of simple imprisonment.
Thefact that the moves taken in Finland reduced the incarceration ratesfrom the peak of about 190 convicts per 100000 individuals in the1950s to around 60 in the late 90s clearly indicates that the samecan bear real fruits in America.
Itis evident that the rate of incarceration is higher in the UnitedStates of America when compared to any other country in the world.Despite this, very few individuals are concerned with what happens inthe prisons. Nevertheless, everything that happens in jails hassevere effects not only to the person but also to the society ingeneral. For example, what goes on in the cells directly affects thesafety of the public. One of the problems experienced in the prisonsis the aspect of the use of excessive force on the prisoners. Thisaspect has aversive effects both on the physical and thepsychological well-being of the inmate. The second issue that isproblematic in the prisons is isolation. Isolation has negativelyaffected the social interactions of the individuals and resulted incases of anxiety, depression, and mental impairment. It isunfortunate that despite the many strategies that the United Stateshas put in place, it is still unable to reduce the number ofincarceration. The country needs to come up with measures like theones implemented in Finland to mitigate this aspect withoutincreasing the criminal activities in the general public.
Crawley,Elvin. “Institutional Thoughtlessness in Prisons and Its Impacts onthe Day-to-Day Prison Lives”. Journalof Contemporary Criminal Justice,21(4),(2015):350-363. Print.
Boston,Boston. “ExcessiveForce in the New York City Jails: Litigation and Its Lessons”.Journalof Law & Policy.22 (2006):155-173.http://openscholarship.wustl.edu/law_journal_law_policy/vol22/iss1/13.Web.
Kim,Scarlet, Taylor, Pendergrass, and Helen, Zelon. BoxedIn: The True Cost of Extreme Isolation in New York`s Prisons: AReport by the New York Civil Liberties Union.NY, NY: NYCLU, New York Civil Liberties Union, 2012. Print.
Weiss,Douglass. & MacKenzie, Doris. “A Global Perspective onIncarceration: How an International Focus Can Help the United StatesReconsider Its Incarceration Rates”. Victims& Offenders, 5(3),(2010):268-282. Print.