Alex Heidt | Law

Founder of Heidt Law Firm

Category: Prison Rate

The Death Penalty and The 2016 Presidential Election

The 2016 Presidential Election was ripe with controversial debate. One topic not as thoroughly discussed as others was that of the death penalty. While public support for capital punishment is continuously waning in America, two out of the four main candidates running for office support the death penalty. It probably comes as no surprise to readers that those candidates were now-President Donald Trump and Democratic contender Hillary Clinton.

Prior to announcing his run for President, Donald Trump made the statement to Fox and Friends that the death penalty should be forcefully brought back, citing the May 2015 shooting deaths of two police officers in Mississippi. Hillary Clinton also expressed support for the death penalty. Jill Stein (the Green Party candidate) and Gary Johnson (the Libertarian Party candidate) do not support capital punishment as many have been wrongfully convicted of crimes punishable by death.

Recent research shows a declining trend in support for the death penalty since the 1980’s. In fact, somewhere around 56% to 61% of Americans still favor the death penalty – much lower percentages than thirty years ago.

Support for the death penalty was made evident by voting trends in several states. Voters in Nebraska reinstated the death penalty there, reversing a 2015 decision to repeal it. The state currently has ten men sitting on death row and has not executed a prisoner since 1997.

Although the death penalty has not been repealed in California, the ballot contained a measure that would have repealed it as well as one that would speed up appeals to execute prisoners. The latter barely passed, now limiting the number of appeals a prisoner can make and implementing deadlines that expedite the appeals. In stark contrast to Nebraska, California currently has 750 death row inmates.

Also, voters in Oklahoma voted for a measure that makes it exponentially more difficult to get rid of capital punishment and declared the death penalty to not be a form of cruel or unusual punishment.

While the death penalty is currently legal in 31 states, it is rarely used, and generally is only in extreme cases. Since President Trump recently Tweeted that pedophiles who snatch up children should have fast trials that end with the accused being given the death penalty, it is entirely possible that there will be a resurgence in debate over the death penalty. Whether or not more voters will support or oppose capital punishment remains to be seen.

Alex Heidt explains prison population

Reducing the Prison Population

In my previous blog, I discussed reasons for the high incarceration rate in the United States. These reasons include high prosecution of drug crimes, repeat offenders, prosecuting minors, and excessive prison sentences (often because of drug-related crimes). I also pointed out how this mass incarceration disproportionately affects young black men, which is likely because of racial profiling laws.

Many lawmakers recognize the importance of investigating this issue further and working on ways to prevent such massive amounts of people from being sent to prison. Lots of people feel that the amount of people imprisoned for victimless or nonviolent crime is outrageous and focus their efforts on targeting these specific issues. The question is often asked, “can we reduce our prison populations without also having an increase in crime?” In this post, I’m going to address various ways governments are actively attempting to lower the astronomical prison rate, along with other solutions that are not currently implemented.

What Texas Did

First off, let’s talk about Texas. Like many other states, Texas wanted to reduce the number of prisoners and money spent maintaining prisons but didn’t want to risk a crime increase. So, they implemented various programs and reforms to help with these issues, which resulted in their prison population lowering by 10 percent and their crime population lowering around 18 percent.

They first decided to invest in the short term in the hopes of saving more in the long term, so they restructured various aspects of their prison system for around $250 million. Texas also made the effort to drastically reform their juvenile correction system to lower the rates of juveniles in prisons and correctional institutions. So far, their methods have been a success and other states, such as Georgia and Alabama, have followed suit.

Shorter or Non-Existent Sentences for Drugs

To many people, the biggest issue with the high rate of incarceration is excessive sentences for drug-related offenses that are usually excessively long.

Since many drug offenders were merely carrying the drug on their person and are often lower-level users (small-time drug dealers or people who use the drugs), there would be a significant decrease in the prison population if these individuals weren’t handed long sentences for just possessing drugs.

Instead, they can be used to help locate the higher-level criminals or be given shorter prison sentences so there are more space and resources for the people who commit more serious crimes.

Drug Sentences Include Rehab

Since repeat offenders are such a prevalent issue, often with drug users, a possible solution is to include rehab as part of drug-related sentences. Instead of people remaining incarcerated for the full number of years, send them to a rehab center for part of their sentence. That way, it’s more likely that they can get the help they need and avoid drugs in the future, thus avoiding being placed back into the system for drug-related crime.

Credit Good Behavior

While prisoners getting out on good behavior occasionally happens, prisons could increase the use of this incentive. By positively rewarding inmates who display exemplary behavior behind bars, they can reduce their sentences if they committed a nonviolent or lower level crime. Encouraging good behavior will positively reinforce prisoners and make them more likely to continue this behavior when outside of jail.

Release Older Inmates

It’s been proven that inmates over the age of 55 are highly unlikely to commit new crimes, so they could be released after they’re monitored for good behavior and evaluated. If these older prisoners are good candidates for release, then they can be released before their full sentences have been served.

Work and Education Incentives

Finally, many people acknowledge the truth that education and whether or not someone has job opportunities plays a huge role in their likelihood to commit crimes.

By providing ample opportunities for prisoners to educate themselves and learn skills they can use in a future career, they’ll be less likely to revert to crime once they leave prison. These programs can be incentivized so prisoners are encouraged to participate in them.

Also, make employers more open to hiring a former prisoner through incentives for that employer. If prisoners become more educated and feel that they have options for their futures, the temptation to commit crimes will be less.

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