The student news site of Aspen High School

THE SKIER SCRIBBLER

The student news site of Aspen High School

THE SKIER SCRIBBLER

The student news site of Aspen High School

THE SKIER SCRIBBLER

Rethinking the American Incarceration System

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Photo courtesy of Creative Commons
A typical Norwegian prison cell in Halden, Norway.

Imagine this: After years of inhumane and unfair treatment in prison, you have finally been released back into American society. Excited to start your new life, you look for employment to support you and your family. Seems easy, right? Wrong. Every job you applied to denied you because of your criminal record. Okay, well at least you have an apartment to stay in while you search for options. Nope, your landlord discovers your criminal history and evicts you from your home. With no money and no home, what will you do? The answer for many in that situation is to return to a life of crime. You’re probably thinking, isn’t the criminal justice system supposed to prevent crime? Well, that was the idea, but the system runs on the assumption that strict punishment is an effective method of crime prevention. The reality is that the American incarceration system is a massive failure due to its focus on punishment instead of rehabilitation.

The first issue with America’s incarceration system is its focus on punishment and low quality of life within prisons. The U.S. government assumes harsh treatment is a disincentive. Therefore, inhumane practices are justified. In California, prisons were forced to reduce populations in prisons due to overcrowding. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, one inmate in California’s prison system dies every week due to inadequate healthcare because of overcrowding in prisons. Prisons are not able to provide care for inmates in a timely manner. Furthermore, one representation of the prison system’s effectiveness is its rate of recidivism. In America, the recidivism rate is 70%. That means 70% of people who go to prison are likely to commit another crime and re-enter the criminal justice system after their release. The United States has one of the highest recidivism rates in the world, along with the highest prison population on earth at 2 million people at any given time.

Along with the issues inside the incarceration system, there are also major issues with reintroduction. Although America allows for felons to fully re-enter society after their sentence, a criminal record can follow a person everywhere, from employment to disenfranchisement.

Because of the incredibly high recidivism rate in America, employers perform background checks to ensure that an employee will not be a liability to the company. A person who is statistically more likely to return to criminal activity is often not considered a stable, long-term employee. Therefore, felons will not even be considered for most job positions. Without a way to provide for oneself, a person with a criminal history is even more likely to resort to crime. This is the same with housing. Landlords are allowed to perform background checks on their tenants, which prevents convicts from finding housing. This means that employment and housing further perpetuate recidivism.

Also, many felons cannot vote after they have served their sentence due to disenfranchisement laws. 35 states in America do not allow felons to vote while on parole, while 12 states completely ban convicts from voting, even after parole. This means that supposedly “free” people cannot vote or advocate for themselves. Therefore, ex-convicts cannot advocate for better treatment in housing and employment.

Although the American incarceration system is incredibly poor, there are still methods of reducing recidivism and increasing humane practices in and out of the prison system. Norway has the lowest recidivism rate in the world, at 20%. Here’s why: Norway’s system focuses on rehabilitation and reintroduction rather than punishment. In Norway, there are several factors that lead to humane prison facilities. First, Norway does not have large, federal prisons. Instead, they have small, community-run facilities that keep inmates physically close to their families and communities. This allows inmates to maintain social interaction and keep close ties to friends and family. Social connections can prevent trauma and even PTSD in prisons which contributes to mental stability, so social interaction is crucial.

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