The United States has a prison problem.
More specifically, mass incarceration needs a major overhaul.
Prison overcrowding costs taxpayers amounts that, frankly, do not keep them any safer.
The University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics reported the Allegheny County Jail’s population increased by 70 percent during the last two decades in which crime rates fell. The jail’s daily population of 2,200 inmates amounts to an estimated criminal justice cost of 42 cents out of every property tax dollar.
The report noted 81 percent of those in the Allegheny County Jail are not serving sentences in comparison to the 62 percent national average.
Although the commonly dubbed “war on drugs” is often considered to begin in the 1990s, PBS reported it began in the late 1960s with the rise in recreational drug use among young, white, middle-class Americans.
To combat the mass incarceration rates, President Barack Obama has granted 872 total commutations during his presidency, surpassing the last 11 presidents who had a combined total of 715 commutations during their terms.
According to The Washington Post, people can apply for executive clemency through the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney. If a sentence is commuted, it means a sentence can be cut short but stops short of declaring the applicant’s innocence. Rather, the convicted felon maintains civil disabilities, or restrictions that include the inability to sit on federal juries or, in some states, vote.
Other than presidential clemency, there are some steps we can take to reduce the incarceration rates.
According to Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, the high incarceration rates exist in part because of racial biases, as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Peduto said governments must begin to fund resources for the “core issues of mental health and addiction” that affect inmates.
Nearly 75 percent of Allegheny County Jail inmates suffer from either mental illness, substance abuse or both, according to the Post-Gazette.
Another step, a step that I always consider a viable option, is education. The more we know about incarceration rates and racial stereotyping, the more we can prevent injustices from occurring.