The American Prison System: A Closer Look at the System

The U.S. makes up 5 percent of the world’s population and they also make up 25 percent of the world's prisoners. That percentage breaks down to around 2.2 million inmates in the U.S., for me the first thing that comes to mind when I see 2.2 million inmates is what does it cost to support them. According to a 2012 Vera Institute of Justice study, in the 40 states that participated in the study, the cost to the taxpayer in these states equaled $39 billion. The annual average taxpayer cost in these states was $31,286 per inmate.

In my opinion, if we are going to spend that much money on incarcerating a citizen then we should make the investment worth wild. The money that is spent on prisons is ineffective when it comes to actually rehabilitate the prisoners. The U.S. prison systems seem to be built around incarcerating the individual instead of trying to effectively rehabilitate the individual so he or she may become a more productive member of society after their release. Individuals arrested and put into the prison system became a part of the vicious cycle of incarceration, release, and re-incarceration. This is known as recidivism.

Recidivism refers to the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend, which results in rearrests, reconviction, or return to prison. The Bureau of Justice Statistics studies has found high rates of recidivism among released prisoners. One (Study tracked 404,638 prisoners after their release from prison in 2005. The study is made up of 30 states that make up 76% of the U.S. population. In Regards to state prisons, the researchers found that about two-thirds (67.8%) of released prisoners were arrested for a new crime within 3 years, and three-quarters (76.6%) were arrested within 5 years. More than a third (36.8%) of all prisoners who were arrested within 5 years of release were arrested within the first 6 months, while after the first year (56.7%) were arrested by the end of the first year.

When I see these numbers it becomes painfully obvious that the U.S. prison system makes little to no attempt of preparing prisoners for life after prison. Then again, when you have private corporations like the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) running prison systems, why would they? More prisoners in their prisons mean more money for them. By making the prison system a business for these corporations, prisoners simply become dollar signs on a piece of paper and more prisoners equal more dollar signs. Yes, these private prisons might take some of the burdens off of federal and state governments, but at what cost? Most of these private prisons have contracts that have an occupancy guarantee provision that requires the state to keep the prison at 90% occupancy. Provisions like these can end up costing federal and state governments more money in the long run, these clauses can force corrections departments to pay thousands, sometimes millions, for unused beds. This is known as a “low-crime tax” that penalizes taxpayers when they achieve what should be the desired goal of lower incarceration rates. It’s ironic that American taxpayers can be penalized by private corporations for achieving ideal living conditions within their own society by lowering the crime rate.

Furthermore, the thing that irritates me the most about the prison system is the fact that these private prisons spend large amounts of money lobbying federal and state lawmakers to advance policies that protect their interest and keep pro-privatization lawmakers in office. In my opinion, they are literally buying representatives in the government that only represent their interest by passing harsh criminal laws. With private prison corporations influencing the American Prison System from behind the scenes we can continue to expect that America will remain number one for the highest percentage of incarcerated citizens.

I hope you do your due diligence and conduct some research yourself to get an in-depth look into the American Prison System prison.