Sunday, April 5, 2009

The American Criminal Justice System: In Need of Reformation?

In this article entitled, "Inmate Count in U.S. Dwarfs Other Nations," it talks about how the United States had the most amount of prisoners in the world. Each day, there are Americans that are being imprisoned for things, such as illegal drug use and other minor crimes. The United States has about 2.3 million people in prison, as opposed to China, which has 1.6 million prisoners. But the difference between the U.S. and China is that China has four times more people than the United States. There are approximately 751 people in prison for every 100,000 in the population. One of the reasons why there are so many people in prison is the fact that American prison sentences are generally lengthier than those of other countries. For example, in the United States, burglars are given a sentence of 16 months in prison, while those in Canada serve 5 months and 7 months for those in England. Sentences are often out of proportion to the seriousness of the offense. It is clear that the United States has quite a different approach to crime and punishment. A researcher at the prison studies center in London said that the incarceration rate has made the U.S. "a rogue state, a country that has made a decision not to follow what is a normal Western approach." Many people question if incarcerating people for longer periods of time actually affects the crime rate. Specialists have noted that, "Rises and falls in Canada's crime rate have closely paralleled America's for 40 years. But its imprisonment rate has remained stable." Therefore, the article comes to a conclusion that the cause of the high incarceration rate in the U.S. is democracy. In the United States, most state court judges and prosecutors are elected. This means that there is a lot of political pressure put on them by the public that is "generally in favor of tough crime policies," according to several opinion polls.

The second article, "Reviewing Criminal Justice," discusses how Senator Jim Webb of Virginia has introduced a bill in March regarding the need for a national commission to review the criminal justice system from top to bottom. The commission will be responsible for examining policies and recommending reforms. The bill has strong bipartisan support.

I agree with the second article that by keeping people in prison for longer than they need to be there is unjust. It is also extremely expensive. Money that could be used for other needs, like unemployment, education, and hospitals, are going to prison costs instead. A Pew Charitable Trusts report says, "state corrections spending soared 127 percent, while spending on higher education increased only 21 percent." There is currently no bill in the HOuse, but the article states that since there is bipartisan support in the Senate, there is a national consensus that the criminal justice system is broken and is in need of reform. Hopefully, the criminal justice system will be reformed.

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