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The Role Prison Currently Plays in American Society

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Incarceration is a type of punishment where a judge imposes some length of time on an offender either in jail or in custody. If the sentence is less than a year, then the offenders serves it in a local jail, but sentences extending beyond one year are served in a state prison. Many people, including the media and politicians, hold that the only way of dealing with crime is by being tougher day by day and carry out crackdowns on all the criminals in the society. That is just an artificial and dangerous myth created to prevent the society and law enforcers from dealing with the real problem of crime (Gopnik 2012).

The truth is the United States of America imprisons offenders at a rate that is five times higher than any other developed country in the world. The number of prisoners has quadrupled from the 1970s, leaving very little space for the inmates. This is a clear indication that the threat of a prison or jail does not deter criminal behavior. In fact, studies show that over 62% of all prisoners in the United States are arrested again in a span of three years after their release. It is, therefore, right to say that prison is not keeping criminals away from crime. On the contrary, the prisons are only incapacitating them, so that they are rendered unfit for anything else.

There are other indirect effects of embracing imprisonment as a form of punishment, particularly mass incarcerations which are usually more understated due to the high costs. The prison system is one that has cultural effects and consists of the complex social organization which reflects people’s way of thinking. As a way of thinking, it accentuates degradation and violence as a way of solving conflicts among people. When the governments expand this system through construction of new prisons, this kind of thinking is also enhanced. In addition, people develop a tendency of segregating against former prisoners in almost all areas of political, economic and social life (Foucault 2012). This form of punishment also results in the construction of false moral and ontological dichotomy about the society vs. the prisoners. The cultural message sent by mass incarceration is that there are two groups of people that exist in the society. The group of good ones are morally pure, and the bad ones are morally defiled; the morally defied do not have a place in the society occupied by the good ones. There are thousands of prisoners who are serving sentences in jails or prisons for sins they did not commit. However, the fact that they have at some point been in prison, they also appear as bad ones.

In addition, segregation of criminals through imprisonment produces structures that result in unjustified privilege and disadvantage. The most prisoners are people from the poor or the working class and people of the color. A prison basically removes a majority of them from the society; it removes the young, energetic and potentially wage-earning men from the already disadvantaged communities. In turn, that contributes to the deepening impoverishment of their immediate families and the society at large to the exacerbation of deep-rooted structures of class and race oppression (Foucault 2012). Currently, more than 1.5 million kids are growing up with at least one parent in jail. In such cases, the imprisoned parent is not able to provide for the family financially and deprives them the emotional involvement and physical contact.

Some people argue that making the right choices is a guarantee for one to stay out of prison, but it does not happen this way. There are thousands of individuals locked up in prisons for offences they never committed (Gopnik 2012). However, while it is not a guarantee to stay out of prison by making the right choices, it is paramount that people endeavor to do the right things. One of the characteristic of the incarceration system is the disproportionate number of the African American minority in the prisons. The high number of the black American men in the prisons is a result of minimal economic opportunities and unstable living conditions of these men leading them to engage in criminal activities. In the year 2004, there were more than 1.3 million prisoners in federal and state prisons and 41% of the prisoners were black, 34% were whites, while Hispanics comprised of 14%. The incarceration rates among the black men in was seven to eight times higher than their male counterparts while the rate of incarceration of black females was more than four times the number of the white females. It is also evident that the whites and the blacks get arrested for different crimes. Black men are more likely to get to prison due to drug trafficking unlike the whites. The increased fight against drugs has, therefore, resulted in an increased number of black men in the prisons.

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Dismantling the current system of punishment would require a constructive confrontation with the prevalent stigmatizing principles and ideologies towards offenders in the United States among the offenders’ families and societies. People need to change their attitudes towards the offenders and accept them back in the society. Thus would allow them to rethink their way of life unlike in situations of discrimination where they have high chances of recommitting the crime and going back to prison (Foucault 2012). Moreover, the state should endeavor to decriminalize victimless offences like homelessness, prostitution among consenting adults and recreational drug abuse. This would result in reduced number of individuals locked up in the prisons. Lastly, replacing the current penal system with non-incarcerative restorative systems like dealing with harmful antisocial behaviors through addressing economic, social and political inequalities would be most effective.

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