Imprisonment was not always what it is today in the United States. However, a series of law enforcement actions and sentencing policy changes meant that there was a dramatic increase in the number of people going to prison.
The War on Drugs began in the 1980s, and since then, the total number of people who are incarcerated in U.S. prisons has risen from just 40,900 in 1980 to 452,964 in 2017. This jump is particularly important to address, because many of the people in prison are there for drug crimes.
Are there racial components to incarceration?
As much as people would like to say that all races face the same penalties, not all communities face the same incarceration rates. People of color make up 37% of those in the United States but a whopping 67% of those in prison. African Americans are more likely to be arrested and convicted than other races. In fact, black men are six times more likely to end up in prison than white men.
What’s interesting about incarceration is that crime rates have been in decline since the early 1990s, but increased imprisonment has not played a major role in decreasing criminal acts, according to a number of studies. Why? Incarceration is not useful at helping prevent certain kinds of crimes, like drug crimes, which are largely a result of addiction.
Interestingly, people do tend to stop committing crimes as they age. Crime peaks in the mid-to-late teen years, according to research, and starts to decline when people reach their mid-20s. Since recidivism rates go down with age, the National Research Council has concluded that imprisonment is an ineffective approach to preventing criminal acts, unless that imprisonment is specifically aimed at high-rate or dangerous offenders.
Speak with your attorney about alternative penalties
One thing to remember is that many changes in law have occurred in the past several years. Today, there are drug courts and alternative sentencing practices that may impact your case.
Since it has been shown that imprisonment isn’t particularly helpful in drug-related cases, your case may also benefit from alternative sentencing. Your attorney can talk to you more about seeking an alternative sentence, such as seeking substance abuse treatment or other methods of recovery.
The law constantly changes, but imprisonment is a problem that continues to reach the media. If you face imprisonment, be sure to speak with someone who knows your state laws and how to help.