Prompt: Write an essay in which you develop a position on the effectiveness of mass incarceration in America.
In a typical high school environment, disciplinary actions are gradually taken in order to enforce rules and codes of conducts. First offenders receive warnings, or in school suspension. In most cases, these offenses are not left on one's record. This allows students to grow into better versions of themselves. Disciplinary systems in high schools help improve the lives of those who have made mistakes, however the prison system of mass incarceration fails to address the aspect of improving the lives of those who have committed crimes. Some may argue that mass incarceration in America is effective because it improves the safety of civilians. However it is ineffective in preventing criminals from committing crimes again and equally enforcing laws. Therefore, the system of mass incarceration is highly ineffective because it only temporarily increases safety rather than preventing it in the future.
Confining criminals into prisons in large numbers works to temporarily decrease the amount of danger within American neighborhoods. Overall, the safety of a large amount of Americans is not improved by the system of mass incarceration because prisons do not allow prisoners to change the course of their future. The label of being a prisoner or a felon prevents criminals from leaving the prison system and finding a sufficient source of income. As a criminal, social stigmas define their futures, and ultimately sends criminals to resort back to their illegal ways. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander explores the impacts of mass incarceration in the American justice system. According to Alexander, "Once you're labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination––employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service––are suddenly legal." (Alexander). Once someone is sentenced for committing a felony, they are socially black listed. The idea of mass incarceration has led to a social backlash against those in confinement. Mass incarceration claims to be keeping criminals off of the streets, but in reality, American prison systems temporarily lock up prisoners and release them into a life where returning to their criminal lifestyle is one of the only options. By locking up large quantities of people, prisons are not able to address the aspect of self improvement in the futures of criminals. In comparison to American prison systems, "notably, other prison systems, most famously those in countries such as Sweden and Norway, are much more transparent. The primary goal of prison, officials in these countries maintain, is to return people to the society improved. And, thus, they insist, prisons must have oversight to ensure that they are run humanely" (Thompson). Unlike certain European countries, American does return prisoners to society in order to improve their lives. The conditions are incredibly ineffective in preventing criminals from re-entering society. In fact, "Every American prison is, of course, severely overcrowded and, therefore, they are not just hellholes for the incarcerated, they are also volatile and dangerous workplaces" (Thompson). Mass incarceration funnels massive scales of people into prisons that are structurally unable to be run in a humane nature. In comparison to places like Norway and Sweden, America cannot focus on the aspect of self improvement because of mass incarceration. Prisoners who lack the resources to improve their lives are highly unlikely to return to society as a improved versions of themselves. As a result, prisoners are trapped into a cycle of crime, and social shunning which ultimately prevents criminals for diverging from the path that they were on before entering the system.
Mass incarceration supporters make claims about the decreasing amount of crime rates. However, the inability for the justice system to enforce laws in an economically equal manner prevents all criminals from being fairly treated under the law. Ultimately, mass incarceration allows less fortunate people to be mistreated under the law while wealthy people to get away with major offenses. Therefore, mass incarceration is ineffective in the nature of equally enforcing laws. In The New Jim Crow, Alexander acknowledges that "pre-conviction service fees imposed throughout the united sates today include jail book-in fees... public defender application fees charged when someone applies for court appointed counsel and the bail investigation fee"(Alexander). The accumulation of a wide range of fees for crimes that one may not have committed prevents the accused from receiving a fair trial. After service fees, less fortunate people are unable to hire adequate lawyers who can aid in their innocence. According to Jed Rakoff of the NY Book, without a sufficient lawyer, "a genuinely innocent defendant could still choose to go to trial without fearing that she might thereby subject herself to an extremely long prison term effectively dictated by the prosecutor"(Rakoff). If one is not economically able to defend themselves in a court of law, they enter the prison system on false accusations. The less fortunate will enter the prison system in order to prevent what seems like an inevitable future of imprisonment. Those who do not have the privilege of being economically represented under the law are victims of the harsh enforcement associated with mass incarceration. Sending innocent people into a cycle of imprisonment exemplifies the ineffective nature of mass incarceration.
Similarly to the justice systems inability to enforce laws in an economically equal manner, mass incarceration does not fairly discipline minorities in comparison to the white majority. Mass incarceration affects African Americans much more than white Americans, largely because of the War on Drugs. In the perspective of Michelle Alexander “Today, the War on Drugs has given birth to a system of mass incarceration that governs... entire communities of color. In ghetto communities, nearly everyone is either directly or indirectly subject to the new caste system. The system serves to redefine the terms of the relationship of poor people of color and their communities to mainstream, white society, ensuring their subordinate and marginal status" (Alexander). Increasing police presence within dominantly African American communities aids in incarcerating a large scale of the minority population. The disparity of police presence in white versus black communities plays a role in creating social prejudice against African Americans. Mainstream society increasingly relates crime with minorities which continues social oppression. Inaccurate views of minority populations, resulting from racially targeted mass incarceration, feeds into the stereotypes that black people face in modern America. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, "Despite the fact that white and black people use drugs at similar rates, black people are jailed on drug charges 10 times more often than white people are"(ACLU). Statistically, mass incarceration does not accurately address the flaws of the white population. Increased focus on black communities continues to prevent social growth. After being incarcerated, many criminals lose the right to vote. Ultimately, African American communities are not accurately represented from both a social and political standpoint as a result of mass incarceration. The inability to equally enforce drug related laws reflects the ineffective nature of mass incarceration.
Through the overly praised system of mass incarceration, criminals remain criminals, less fortunate people remain less fortunate, and minorities remain oppressed. With an unjust system of mass incarceration, a large section of society is sent into an endless cycle of failure. Until the social justice system accurately addresses all people, the cycles will continue to loop.
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow, The New Press, 2010
"Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice" ACLU, https://www.aclu.org/issues/mass-incarceration/racial-disparities- criminal-justice. Accessed 13 Apr. 2018
Rakoff, Jed "Why Innocent People Plead Guilty" The New York Review
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2014/11/20/why-innocent-people- plead-guilty/. Accessed 12 Apr. 2018
Thompson, Heather. "Mass Incarceration in American and the Extraordinary Truth Of What Happens
Inside U.S. Prisons" Newsweek, http://www.newsweek.com/mass- incarceration-america-unjust-suffering-inside-us-prisons-must-be- exposed-621833. Accessed 13 Apr. 2018.