Prison reform is a movement to improve conditions inside prisons, the effectiveness of the criminal justice system and to reduce recidivism and strengthen public safety.
Last week, statistics were given regarding the number of persons of color incarcerated in America. To end mass incarceration, reform is needed. Advocates of prison reform realize there is unfairness in our justice system as offenders, mainly of color, are unfairly sentenced. The Equal Justice Initiative (“EJI”)(1) are fierce advocates for justice. The EJI reports that:
• The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population but nearly 25 percent of its incarcerated population.
• Spending on jails and prisons reached $87 billion in 2015, an increase of 1000 percent from the $7.4 billion spent in 1975.
• From 1980 to 2017, the number of women in jails and prisons in the U.S. grew 750 percent. Over 225,000 are incarcerated today.
Prison reform is considered a social justice issue because of the racial disparities that persist at every level of the criminal justice system. Additionally, the tough-on-crime policies enacted as a result of the 1994 Crime Bill not only led to mass incarceration, but the tough-on-crime policies are deeply rooted in the belief that black and brown people are inherently guilty and dangerous. Because many who are caught up in the criminal justice system are unable to afford the amount of money it takes to investigate their case or, according to the EJI, obtain the help they need, leads to wrongful convictions and excessive sentences.
Some prison reform areas advocates want continually addressed are prison education programs where inmates are allowed the opportunity to enroll in courses behind bars. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, investing in an inmate’s education helps reduce recidivism.(2)
Prison safety is another important issue. The National Center for Biotechnology Information notes, “Prisons and jails are amplifiers of infectious disease because of overcrowding and unsanitary living conditions. There must be changes made to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 which will include reducing jail and prison admissions and releasing people from facilities. Jails must also implement policies to help stop the spread of COVID-19 behind bars.”(3)
Policies must also be enacted by facilities to stop the physical abuse behind bars and to ensure the physical safety of inmates when they are behind bars.
There are many other reforms that are currently underway at the Federal Bureau of Prisons, thanks to advocacy and the focus placed on this issue. There is still a way to go, so don’t stop advocating for reforms in our criminal justice system that addresses excessive punishment, wrongful convictions, and to place more emphasis on rehab and treatment programs.
1 Equal Justice Initiative at: eji.org.
2 Northwestern University, Northwestern Prison Education Program, Available at https://sites.northwestern.edu/npep/benefits-of-prison-education/.
3 Nowothy, Kathryn, et al, COVID-19 Exposes Need for Progressive Criminal Justice Reform, NCBI (July 2020).
Next week: Social Justice Issues in America (Gun Violence)
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