The penal industry and its effects on Americans in the wake of the mass incarceration crisis has been nothing more than predatory. Over about three decades the prison population erupted from 200,000 in the early 1970s to the all time high of about 2.2 million. This figure represents a shocking quarter of the worlds imprisoned population. For context the U.S is home to only about two percent of the world population. The truly insidious quality of American incarceration is even after release former convicts are never fully reintegrated into society.
A record of imprisonment makes employment, education and access to most housing nearly impossible. One possible avenue that is taken away from ex cons is military service. Those who have completed their time peacefully and are doing time for a non violence related offense should be allowed to enlist. The training, life experiences, and sense of accomplishment that are possible with military service are hard to find. This epidemic has disproportionally targeted minorities in impoverished areas. Studies show that blacks and whites use drugs at the same levels but black Americans are up to five times more likely to be imprisoned mainly for drug related offenses. Maryland is about 30 percent African American, but black people make up 72 percent of the prison population.
Hispanic Americans who represent around 14 percent of the total American population make up about 35 percent of total prisoners. This disproportionate incarceration of black and brown Americans is a destructive force to minority families in the U.S. In addition to the historical trauma blacks and hispanics have faced from both government initiated discriminatory policy and personal racism, this additional obstacle only heightens the racial inequality between minorities and white Americans. A program allowing ex cons redemption through the venue of the military would help reverse generations of racial wrongs.
In comparison to the penal systems of many other countries the American system is especially ineffective and unforgiving. In Norway for example incarcerated Norwegians are imprisoned at a much lower rate, for a lower cost, and actually reintegrated into society afterwards. In Norway less than 5,000 people are incarcerated. In addition to a low level of reported crime, the focus is clearly rehabilitation not punishment. Norwegian prisons are devoid of the expected violence, physical and psychological harm that are the norm in American prisons. The standard of living in Norwegian prisons is even on par with that of the outside. The inmates have fully furnished kitchens that even have sharp objects. Extracurricular programs like studios for music recording and woodworking programs.
All of these luxurious strappings are intentional and exist because Norwegians expect that inmates upon release will be released back into society. The evidence for the success of their prison industry is present in the recidivism rate. The U.S recidivism rate is 77%. That means that within five years almost eight out of ten prisoners will end up up back in prison.
In Norway almost the opposite is true. With a recidivism rate of almost only 20% only two out of ten prisoners ends up back in prison. The sad reality is that the tough on crime attitude in the U.S translates to being tough on criminals. This approach prevents the rehabilitation of prisoners who have served their sentence and bars them from becoming functioning individuals in society.If Americans are committed to pursuing punishment and being tough on crime the least we can do is promise prisoners who have done their time a place in society. Beginning in the 1960s largely thanks to Regan, the war on crime in the U.
S had catastrophic consequences. One being the correlation of criminality to race and a more negative attitude of those who were imprisoned. As a result Americans today have an extremely negative perception of former convicts, so much so that we label them ex con even years after they have been released. Because of this attitude privately owned companies cannot be expected to hire ex cons. There is a reason that nearly all employers ask about former conviction in job applications, because that is an almost automatic reason for employers to throw out an application. Therefore, the government should allow all ex cons enlistment into government jobs like the military. As of now some former convicts who have served their sentences and paroles are eligible for enlistment after a fair amount of time. This transitionary process is often too lengthy and results in people ending up back in prison.
Because the U.S recidivism rate is so high finding prisoners employment and housing immediately after prison should be a priority. Military recruiters should frequent prisons and detention centers giving recently released inmates ample opportunity. Inmates who have done there time and do not pose a threat should be allowed to enlist immediately upon release.
The American mass incarceration crisis has destroyed families and with no remedy will create generational poverty. The practice unfairly targets minorities who have historically faced discrimination and were systematically exploited. Imprisonment is a continuation of the trend. We as a country should be looking for innovate new ways to incorporate all citizens into society. Placement into the military, a meritocracy, offering success to those who are willing to work hard is one way to right past wrongs.