US Penal System Reform

The purpose of the penal system is to enforce laws and punish offenders.  The purpose of punishment is to ensure that the offending behavior will never happen again.  But these basic tenets are not effectively practiced in America.  Lack of adherence to these basic tenets is expensive to individual states and to the federal government.  $40 billion was the estimated combined prison and detention costs for states in 2010.  $8.5 billion for federal prisons and detention is written into the 2014 budget.  These figures do not include costs of policing and prosecuting criminals, or the costs to victims.  Reformation of the U.S. penal system must be implemented.

 There are more prisoners in the U.S. than in all of the other developed nations combined. 

In 2010 about 4.5 percent of the globe’s population lived in the U.S., but 23 – 25 percent of the globe’s prison population was in the U.S., according to the International Center for Prison Studies.  One out of every 35 adult residents of the U.S. was under penal supervision of some sort in 2012.  The U.S. imprisons more people than China or Russia.

 Theories of why this is happening are that state and federal laws are too restrictive, rehabilitation programs are failing, and that punishment is not sufficient.

 Drug related offenders were 24.7 percent of the U.S. inmate population; violence related offenders, such as those who committed murder and assault, were 25.4 percent; property offenders, such as those who committed burglary and larceny, were 24.4 percent; and public order offenders, such as those caught driving while intoxicated, vagrants, persons who unlawfully assemble and those who exhibit improper morality, were 24.9 percent in 2002, according to the Bureau of Justice.

 With the recent trend to lift restrictions on and legalize marijuana the number of drug offenders will expectedly fall.  Illegal substance abuse offenders should be more closely monitored.  Once they are in the penal system rehabilitation should be a one-time option, and repeat offenders should face stricter penalties and fines. 

 There should be no easing of laws regarding violence.  Those committed of violent crime should face a future without hope or comfort.  Those who commit murder should themselves be terminated. 

 There should be no easing of laws for property offenders, but instead there should be stricter penalties.  For instance, white-collar criminals do not deserve to spend time in deluxe cells.  They should be thrown in with car thieves and home burglars.  Being incarcerated should be so miserable and fearful that no one wants to go.  The facts of incarceration should be so severe that a person would not think twice about foregoing an opportunity to usurp another’s financial accounts, or break into someone’s home, or steal a car.  And, they should be forced to pay huge and financially ruinous fines. 

 Public offenders should face stricter penalties.  For many public offenders higher fines and extended terms of public service, such as working at landfills, would not only deter their offenses it would also offset a portion of the cost of policing, prosecution and jail time. 

 Helping to keep criminals honest and would be victims safe is important.  Creating the opportunity to divert money currently needed to support the over crowded and ineffective penal system into public programs that support morality, pay for education and create jobs should be a priority for state and federal law makers. 

 Joan Brown ~ contributor