Trapped in a Cell Cycle

The Criminal Justice System Is Broken

Trapped in a Cell Cycle

James Hoekstra, Writer

With a population of 300 million people, the US only makes up a measly 4% of the world’s population. Despite this, we have 22% of the world’s prison population. The reason for this is the monstrosity known as the US prison system. We have our criminal ‘justice’ system set up to keep people trapped, and it’s centered around money.

I loathe private prisons. The reason these suck is because of the monetary incentive to keep as many people in jail for as long as possible. Basically, they just want money. These prisons don’t focus on rehabilitation because the owners of the prisons are making money off of the people in jail. They even have deals with their state to keep a minimum quota of prisoners, usually a high percentage, such as 97% filled. This makes the state arrest more people to avoid paying fines to these private prisons. 

While private prisons make me want to use words that would land me in detention, state prisons aren’t much better. They may not focus only on money, but the focus still isn’t on rehabilitation. Rather than working with therapists, prisoners just work. It’s a legal extension of slavery, but that’s another topic. Money-wise, it costs taxpayers about 34 billion dollars a  year to house all of them. It’s a lot of money, which does minimal good.

The prison system’s education program is lacking. Correctional education was found to decrease reentry into prison by 43%. However, the majority of prisoners don’t receive access to this. At least 60% of all prisoners are ‘ functionally illiterate, meaning they lack the necessary reading skills to cope in a workplace environment.

All of this lack of care is shown in the reincarceration rate. This creates a positive feedback loop. More people are arrested, so more are put into prisons, so more receive bad treatment, so more renter prison. It’s a vicious cycle. And because prisoners are required to put that they have committed a felony on any job applications, it lowers their opportunities after they’re released. This leads to more poverty and more crime.

Despite all this, there is hope. Just because our current system is awful, doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. If we look across the Atlantic for inspiration, we find Germany. There, they have prisons with lower sentences focused around rehabilitation. Prisoners work on themselves mentally, rather than for others’ profit physically. Another change is shorter sentences. If we truly cared about reforming these people into upstanding citizens, rather than throwing their whole lives away, we’d see shorter time in jail is the way to go. 15 years takes a much larger toll on a person than two does. This results in healthier prisoners, who can improve themselves to become upstanding citizens.