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American Prison System Requires Reform

Annually, the United States spends $80 billion dollars on incarceration. More people are incarcerated in the United States than in China, a brutal, Communist dictatorship. In fact, the United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, a staggering 2.3 million people. This can not be explained by population, as China has more citizens than the United States. This high incarceration rate does not seem to discourage crime as the US has a very high crime rate though it is not as high as countries such as Mexico or Honduras.

In any case, many of those incarcerated are not violent offenders as one would expect. Over fifty percent of the people in prison are there because of nonviolent drug offenses. Most of those drug offenses are related to marijuana. Recidivism rates for drug offenders are strikingly high with seventy-six percent of drug offenders repeating their crime.

The truth of the matter is that drug addiction is not a crime and should not be treated as such. Addiction is an illness which physically changes the chemistry of the human body. If a person uses drugs enough, they can become physically dependent upon them and experience dangerous and sometimes deadly withdrawal symptoms if they stop using them. Quite obviously, putting someone in prison for having an illness is not going to cure that illness.

Also, many people in impoverished communities with a lack of resources or education turn to selling drugs as an easy means of making money. These people often live in communities where there is a lack of economic opportunities. Of course, a federal drug conviction makes it more difficult for a person to obtain a job.

In turn, this makes it more difficult for a person to re-enter society and be economically and socially productive. This can quickly turn into a dangerous cycle. The most obvious solution to this problem is to encourage economic growth so that people have opportunities and do not fall prey to the temptation of selling drugs to make a quick buck. The easiest way to encourage economic growth is lowering taxes so that businesses can thrive.

However, if an exorbitant amount of our taxes are going towards incarceration, then cutting taxes to allow for economic growth becomes difficult. Clearly, we need to find a less punitive model for dealing with low level, nonviolent, and drug offenses. It is not necessary to incarcerate nonviolent offenders.

Other penalties such as fines or community service could replace prison time for these offenders. These have multiple benefits not the least of which would be reducing prison overcrowding while still creating a deterrent to crime. In the case of drug offenders, prison can be replaced with mandatory drug rehabilitation as well as mandatory therapy so that the root cause of the addiction can be discovered and dealt with. The prison system must be overhauled as the logic behind the current system just doesn’t add up.

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