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.