Non-Violent Offenses Leads United States to World’s Highest Incarceration Rate

The United States has the highest incarceration rate amongst any country in the world, including China, Iran, Russia or any other socialistic country. Of every 99 people in America, 1 of them is in jail. That is 1.6 million of your fellow Americans. This is an increase of 25,000 prisoners within the last year and an increase of 1 million in the last 20 years. The increase is blamed on mandatory sentencing, non-violent crime incarceration, and three strike policies.

Last year 49 billion dollars nationwide was spent on correction facilities, 4 times the amount spent 20 years ago. This is 60% of what federal and state governments spend on higher education, double the ratio for 1987. California taxpayers spend nearly 35,000 dollars per inmate for housing. One of the worst states, Oregon, spends 1.6 billion, which is nearly 10.9% of the state's general funds budget. Also in Oregon, 174 million more dollars are spent on jails than college education. College education is important because states with a higher college enrollment rate experience a lower violent crime rate. The top 10 college enrollment states averaged 276 violent crimes per 100,000 people, while the lowest 10 states averaged 440 violent crimes per 100,000 people.

Is America really a violent nation? In 2004, over half of the prisoners in state prisons were held for non-violent crime. This equals 640,000 non-violent crimes, 250,000 of which were for drug offenses. In Maryland, almost 70% of inmates are in jail for drug offences according to the Baltimore Sun. According to White House statistics nearly 40% of Americans have tried marijuana. Ninety-seven million people would be a lot of people to lock up. The problem with illegal drugs is the weakness of human nature. Everyone has vices, such as food, gambling, video games, tobacco, alcohol, and sex. How do you decide which vices are good and which are bad? Yearly deaths from alcohol and tobacco are 150,000 and 430,000 respectively. Illegal drugs, on the other hand, are estimated to have killed 28,000 people.

Alcohol and tobacco are drugs with health issues and society issues, like cancer, overdose deaths, and drunk driving. Instead of being illegal, cigarettes and alcohol are heavily taxed and the tax revenue is spent on state and federal programs. Tobacco and alcohol are produced in the US and create jobs. Their cost is relatively low because they are readily available compared to the black market of illegal drugs. Higher prices means more money is involved and more people are willing to put their life on the line.

Prohibition in the 1920s didn't work. It formed organized crime that was responsible for many violent crimes. The murder rate went from 1 person per every 100,000 in 1907 to 8 people per 100,000 in 1919 when the 18th amendment was passed. By 1933 when the amendment was reversed, this number was 10 in every 100,000. Fast forward to the 1991 and 6% of all homicides were related to drug manufacturing and trafficking. Even more outstanding is that 10% of federal inmates and 17% of state inmates in were in jail for crimes committed in order to obtain money for drugs. Today, gangs from Mexico and other countries illegally enter the United States to traffic drugs. These gangs are responsible for murders of rival street gangs with police and innocent civilians caught in the battle. Drug trafficking money also goes to support terrorist organizations or militias in foreign countries. There are few cases today where tobacco and alcohol have caused people to murder or smuggle them into the country. By outlawing drugs, America is increasing its violent crime rate, supporting gangs, spending billions of tax payer dollars, increasing illegal border crossings, removing citizens from society, and supporting terrorism.

The problem with mandatory sentencing and locking people up for non-violent crimes like drug offenses is that prison affects the rest of a person's life. Health care is poor in prisons with rampant diseases and viruses that spread through the inmates close quarters. Putting a non-violent offender in a jail with violent offenders may alter a person's psychology. Some studies, like those conducted by Jesse Shapiro and Keith Chen, have found that criminals are more violent when they are released from prison. This makes sense when a prisoner is exposed to a life of abuse, violence and harassment inside prison walls. Rehabilitating a prisoner back into society is tough. If a person has a record his or her job options become limited. A lot of businesses will not hire an ex-con, and other positions are simply not available to ex-cons. When incarcerated, personal relationships can fall apart and key people (spouse, friend, etc) that would help rehabilitate the person are lost. Families can also be torn apart when a parental figure is sent to jail.

The good news is that violent crimes in the US have been on the decline. In the last 20 years violent crime has declined about 4.4%, while the total crime rate has declined about 15.6%. For violent crimes, this is a decrease of about 65,000 cases (from 1.483 million to 1.417 million). Could stiffer sentencing be the reason for the decline? Sending a person to jail only happens after a crime is committed; therefore, stiffer sentences only prevent repeat offenses. Other factors that affect the crime rate include unemployment rate, income levels, single parents, living conditions, growth of the military, population age and income inequality. The US military often employs young Americans from low income families that are high school dropouts or have just gotten a high school degree. This class of people also has the highest imprisonment rate. Still if all other factors are ignored, the United States has increased prison population by over 2 times to decrease crime by 30% at a cost of 49 billion to the American taxpayer.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author/contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Nolan Chart or its ownership


  1. Sandra Sharp says

    contact your attorney general, that is his job is to see that the courts and law enforcement adhere to the rules of the law, hope it works out for you 

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