Via Al Jazeera English:
The US has the highest prison population in the world – some of whom have been subjected to lengthy sentences for relatively minor crimes. And that population has surged over the past three decades.
Although there has been a slight reduction in the past year, more than two million people are either incarcerated in prison or in jail awaiting trial.
The US has the highest rate of imprisonment in the world, with 743 people incarcerated for every 100,000 Americans. No other nation even comes close to these figures.
One explanation for the boom in the prison population is the mandatory sentencing imposed for drug offences and the “tough on crime” attitude that has prevailed since the 1980s.
But it is the length of sentences that truly distinguishes US prison policy. Some prisoners are locked up for life – literally – and many receive harsh sentences for non-violent crime.
These long sentences are leading to an ageing prison population – with eight per cent of prisoners now over the age of 55. This, in turn, is increasing the burden of providing healthcare and geriatric services.
Furthermore, nearly 40 per cent of the US prison population is African-American, despite the fact that blacks make up only 12 per cent of the national population.
A black male is seven times more likely to be imprisoned than a white male.
Mental health issues and drug addiction are also common and, in California alone, it is believed that around 50 per cent of inmates need mental health treatment.
So why does the US have the highest rate of documented incarceration in the world? And does its approach to crime and punishment work or would a focus on rehabilitation be more effective?…