By Alex Solari, Staff Writer
Mass incarceration in America is a huge problem, but it’s one of those things we always hear about, but never really give much thought to.
We hear things like “over 2 million people are in U.S. prisons” and “America has the largest incarceration rate in the world,” but it’s quite difficult to imagine using such a large scale.
To gain more perspective, let’s talk about the five countries that hold the most prisoners: the U.S., (of course), China, Russia, Brazil, and India.
The U.S. holds the most prisoners, with approximately 2.2 million people sitting in United States prisons currently.
Though China is the most populated country in the world, they have 1.5 million people in jail currently, which is a huge drop from the United States. Russia, another populous country, only holds around 900,000 inmates, while Brazil and India hold 370,000 and 330,000 people, respectively.
Many people rebuttal this by claiming that there is more crime in the United States versus other countries, but this is simply false.
According to Slate, the main reason for the high rate of incarceration in the United States is due to unfair drug sentencing laws.
For instance, if a person is caught with a large amount of marijuana, cocaine, or heroin, an officer could charge them with intent to distribute — they would automatically be sent to jail for 10 years.
This is called mandatory minimums, which means if someone has committed a certain drug crime with a mandatory minimum, a judge has no control over the minimum sentence they could receive.
This is a huge problem. Often, judges will need to think about the other aspects of a person’s life, like why they committed the crime, whether they were coerced, etc., before deciding how long someone should be sentenced.
Without the judge having any control, people end up in prison longer, which contributes to the entire problem.
Race also plays a role in mass incarceration.
According to CNN, 40 percent of prisoners in the United States are African American, when only 13 percent of people living in the United States are African American.
This makes it clear that mass incarceration is an issue of power and control, as much as it is about keeping Americans safe. I can understand why people are in favor of having so many prisoners, and want to send everyone to jail who committed crimes.
It’s true that if there isn’t punishment, people will run rampant, and it’s also true that prisons help keep order among society.
However, we have come to a point when people are being thrown into jail for minor, petty crimes, and they’re being sent to jail for far longer than necessary.
This is the time we need to step back and reevaluate our justice system. We need to fix the imperfections that have existed for decades now. As optimistic as I would like to be, I don’t see this repair being done anytime soon.
When Barack Obama was president, there seemed to be a glimmer of hope.
At the 106th NAACP National Convention in the summer of 2015, Obama made a speech about this very issue.
Obama seemed to be invested in stopping mass incarceration.
But less than two years later, Donald Trump has become our president, and with Trump’s track record, it seems he would rather send more people into jail rather than fix the prison system.
According to Business Insider, Trump is more concerned about the country’s crime rates which are “out of control,” and he supports prison privatization, which will make mass incarceration rates even worse.
For now, I think we will see mass incarceration rates stay consistent, or perhaps even rise.
I can only hope we don’t see an executive order from Trump that will send more people into prison and make this problem even worse.