The USA is the world leader in the statistics of the number of prisoners per capita. Today, more than 2 million people are held in American prisons, approximately 25% of the total prison population on Earth. As stated on the White House website, most US prisoners are people of color (The White House). US President Joe Biden has officially banned the Department of Justice from renewing contracts with private prisons. The head of state made this decision as part of his efforts to combat racial inequality. The initiative aims to reduce the trend of “mass incarceration” observed in the country over the past few decades and affects mainly representatives of minorities. However, the reasons for the high incarceration in US prisons are not limited to the legacy of racial strife.
One of the main reasons is Richard Nixon’s decision to declare the “War on Drugs” program. This policy has almost doubled the number of prisoners at the federal and local levels. Similar policies were introduced during the state’s history, such as “Three Strikes, You’re Out.” State prisons were unable to cope with the workload, and private companies came to their aid. Due to high demand, private prisons began to open more often, earning money from contracts with the government. The detention in private prisons is often much worse than in public ones since the authorities save on food and staff, which can affect the safety of these institutions (Kinner and Jody Rich 65). At the same time, it is also about internal security, which leads to relapses and extensions of time limits due to law violations.
The extremely high recidivism rate in American prisons also affects the statistics. First, the lack of mechanisms of social adaptation for people who have been released makes them resort to crime again since their opportunities in work and education are severely limited. Secondly, little attention is paid to the mental health of criminals, in which abnormalities play a vital role in the return of criminal behavior. Finally, it is not uncommon for economic interests in private prisons to provoke criminals to violate, leading to an extension of the term.
An important reason is the availability of firearms: sufficiently loyal access of every citizen to obtaining weapons creates a tangible difference in the severity of crimes. The crime in New York, and in other large European cities was relatively at the same level; however, the bias in murders and robberies with weapons significantly outweighed other types of crime. Relatively few non-violent crimes are committed in the United States. There are fewer robberies in America than in China, Canada, England, and Russia (Wildeman and Wang 1469). People who commit non-violent crimes in these countries are less likely to be imprisoned and almost never get long sentences. The United States, for example, is the only developed country that deprives people of their liberty for minor property crimes, such as issuing insolvent checks (Wildeman and Wang 1470). The crime rate has naturally declined along with such severe measures, but the historical legacy still keeps this level high compared to other countries in the world. Keeping criminals in custody lowers the crime rate for a long time.
Overcoming this problem will require a reasonably long period and appropriate measures. Firstly, attempts have already been made to reduce the number of private prisons and, consequently, the economic interest in the number of prisoners; however, this measure can also have the consequences of losing jobs. Secondly, tightening measures for obtaining a weapon license could restrict public access, but at the same time, it could activate the black market. Finally, a significant revision of the punishment system concerning international practice could bear fruit. Writing insolvent checks and drug use in other countries are rarely imprisoned, as there is a more flexible system of fines. It can include community service and many other options to turn punishment in favor of society or the state.
Kinner, Stuart A. and Josiah D. Jody Rich, editor. Drug Use in Prisoners: Epidemiology, Implications, and Policy Responses. Oxford University Press, 2018.
Wildeman, Christopher, and Emily A. Wang. “Mass incarceration, public health, and widening inequality in the USA.” The Lancet, vol. 389, no. 10077, 2017, pp. 1464-1474.