Incarceration Nation

America is failing. Our government is failing. Our education and prison systems? Failing. The American people deserve to know that they are being failed. We deserve to know about our messed up communities. We deserve to know why our systems are failing and who is failing us. Yet, we continue to be entertained by the horrors of these systems as they are hyperbolically broadcasted to us in a dramatic manner by the media.  We cannot sit idly by and watch the world around us prosper while we become calamities that destroy lives and leave economies in ruins, much like our prison system. Because of the media’s representation of American prisons, false assumptions are being made about the treatment of inmates, the costs of prisons, and how citizens are affected.


The media plays a huge part in our perception of the world, especially today.  Every system imaginable has been presented in media platforms like television, movies, and books. A recent survey of seventh and eighth grade students across a school district showed that 69.4 percent of students received most of their knowledge of prisons from the media. Of that 69.4 percent, 26 percent believed that their view of the American prison system was greatly influenced by the media they were exposed to.  Shows like Orange is the New Black, Prison Break, and numerous cartoons depict prison as a drama-filled place where the food is horrible, the guards are incompetent and every inmate there is burly and terrifying, but that is nothing like real prison. In real prisons, most inmates are content to do their time and get out, the food is similar to something from a school cafeteria, and, for the most part, things run smoothly.  There is, of course, the occasional riot like in Attica, New York.
On September 9, 1971, one of the most infamous riots in prison history occurred; the Attica prison riot. In this rebellion, 2,000 prisoners acted out and thirty-three people were held hostage for four days.The Attica inmates rioted because of the poor treatment and living conditions they were receiving. In a recent interview with prison studies specialist, Vanessa Morgan, it was discovered that although treatment in prisons is not as bad today as it was in the late 60s and early 70s, it is also not marginally better either. Because of changes in the system’s process for dealing with low-level crimes, there are now 710 inmates per 100,000 american residents, which in turn increases the costs of incarceration


In the past forty years, America’s incarceration spending has tripled. Now, each U.S. resident is paying $260 per year in contrast to 1980, when only $77 per inmate was  paid. That’s a 3.38 percent difference, and while that may sound insignificant, it is actually a great number, monetarily. Now, $60-80 billion is being spent annually on the current prison system. In the aforementioned survey, only thirteen percent of surveyed students assumed the correct amount of money going towards the American prison system.


While American prisons revolve around punishment, countries like Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Canada, and Finland that have extremely low prison rates all focus on rehabilitation. Their systems allow for the comfort of their inmates. The cells in foreign facilities look and function better than some college dorms, and the prisoners receive the medical and/or mental attention they need. The stability of these countries’ 


social environments majorly affect the admission into their jails. Sweden, Canada, and Finland all spend a large percent of their national budget on public services and providing for their citizens. Sweden and Switzerland both have low unemployment rates, Canada encourages multiculturalism, Norway has mostly free higher education, and Finland was the first in the world to grant women’s suffrage and legalize universal suffrage, while America still can’t seem to find a better alternative for its prisons.


In the words of Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, the author of an online article detesting prisons, “The alternatives are actually countless, and all better”. But it all depends on the kind of crime committed. For petty crime, the obvious answer is community service. It's real punishment, without the inhumane and crime-breeding drawbacks of prison. The work of community service should be geared toward reparation. For example, if you've been caught doing graffiti, you should clean graffiti; if you've been driving drunk, you should help embalm corpses of people who died in car accidents. And if all fails, there is always the county jail for up to a month.


For more serious crimes, ankle bracelets become a standard. Instead of spending three years in prison for accidentally murdering somebody, six years working in a tedious job, with garnished wages, and stuck on house arrest. with only a single night out allowed once in awhile would be as much a punishment as any. That type of punishment that would not compromise the moral integrity of America. As for the very serious crimes, convicts could be shipped off to other countries that rent out their cells, which in turn would benefit both countries economically. The United States would be able to cut down on costs, and the other country would be boosting their economy and keeping jobs.


The American incarceration system has become a nuisance in our society today. America has a reputation of failed systems and disappointed people. The current prison system is costing our country, being misrepresented in the media, and other countries have found morally better ways to handle crime doers. The best way to fix our wayward country is to get rid of its prisons, so that America can finally be the Land of the Free.






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