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Mass Incarceration in the United States

MassIncarceration in the United States

MassIncarceration in the United States

Massincarceration is a terminology used to refer to the fact that theUnited States incarceration rate is high compared to that of othernations and earlier rates in its history. The U.S. accounts for onlyfive percent of the world’s population. Nevertheless, it isresponsible for approximately 22 percent of the world’s prisonpopulation[ CITATION Amn16 l 1033 ].Research shows that more than two million people are incarcerated inthe country’s prisons as well as county and local jails. Onaverage, close to five million people are under federal or statesupervision in the form of parole or probation[ CITATION Jam15 l 1033 ].The high rate of incarceration has raised debates among scholars keento determine the impact this has on the country at large. Somemaintain that this has had a positive effect while others are of theview that the government should find a way to stop the culture citingthe negative effects linked with the same[ CITATION Amn16 l 1033 ].Therefore, this paper examines the effect of mass incarceration inthe United States.

TheEffects of Mass Incarceration

Ithas been shown that mass incarceration has to some extent helped inreducing the crime rate in the country (Kilgore, 2015). Specifically,the number of individuals engaging in serious offenses that attractserious penalties has reduced. This is one of the reasons provided bythose arguing for mass incarceration. However, the approach todealing with crime has had a low effect on convictions fornon-violent drug offenses[ CITATION Jam15 l 1033 ].If anything, such offenses have increased in the 21stcentury despite mass incarceration. This implies that it is notserving its purpose or the objectives that led to its development.More and more people are being incarcerated on a daily basis. Thishas resulted in congestion in prisons forcing the government to lookfor ways to deal with the problem including building more prisons. Ithas also been considering other methods to ensure discipline amongits citizens including offering community work. All in all, theincarceration rates are still very high as compared to any other timein the country’s history[ CITATION The121 l 1033 ].

Massincarceration has also been blamed for increasing poverty, especiallyamong the African-American community. Individuals who are solebreadwinners in families are being incarcerated daily leaving theirfamilies with no one to turn to regarding needs and wants. Somefamilies are forced to live in extreme poverty after one or more oftheir family members being incarcerated even for non-violent crimes.Most of these families are turning to the government for support tomeet their needs[ CITATION Med11 l 1033 ].Others are forced to engage in immoral activities to get an income tosupport their loved ones. Mass incarceration has also made it hardfor some people to secure jobs after they complete their term. Thismakes it hard for them to survive which increases the risk ofreoffending. An ex-convict who is denied a job opportunity can easilyopt to engage in crime to earn a living. Consequently, this can leadto their arrest leaving those who rely on them for support inpoverty. Addressing the mass incarceration can come in handy inreducing poverty levels especially in the affected communities. Withthis being the case, the government can save on the costs incurredcatering for the poor in the society[ CITATION Amn16 l 1033 ].

Massincarceration is also believed to impact economic development in anegative manner. For one, young and energetic people are beingincarcerated spending their time in prison instead of engaging inactivities that fuel economic development. Some waste time in prisonand hence, do not acquire skills and knowledge essential to theirsurvival in a society. The economy also suffers as a result of massincarceration considering the government spends a lot on socialprograms aimed at boosting the lives of the poor in the society. Suchfunds can be channeled to other economic related projects to improvethe country’s GDP growth and employment rates[ CITATION Med11 l 1033 ].Funds used to build new prisons and equip current ones can also beused for other activities such as improving the transport andeducation sector which plays a primary role in economic development[ CITATION Jam15 l 1033 ].There is the need for the government to come up with ways to ensurethose found guilty of small offenses receive punishments that compelthem to change their behavior while at the same time contributing toeconomic development. Individuals have been pressurizing thegovernment to emphasize community service especially to pettyoffenders to reduce the congestions in prisons. This can also help inreducing poverty as people will be able to serve their sentences andat the same time cater for their loved ones[ CITATION Med11 l 1033 ].

Themass incarceration greatly impacts the African-American communitywith black men being at a higher risk of being arrested and jailedeven for petty offenses. Research shows that one out of three blackmen is likely to end in prison if the current trends are allowed tocontinue. This has created the perception that the community is beingtargeted by law enforcement agencies[ CITATION Jam15 l 1033 ].A large percentage of those arrested serve time. This has contributeda lot to a section of people in the black community developingresentment towards their white counterparts. This is also an issuethe government needs to address as it increases the risk of whitepeople being subjected to violence in neighborhoods dominated byblacks and are prone to violence. It is important for the governmentalso to come up with strategies to ensure some individuals do notwork under the assumption that they are being targeted. Some peopleengage in crime with the knowledge that the risk of beingincarcerated is high even when they have not done anything wrong.Fundamentally, they embrace violent behavior as behaving otherwisehas less effect on their chances of being arrested[ CITATION Jam15 l 1033 ].

Thetrauma suffered by those incarcerated is also devastating especiallyamong those who have been wrongly incarcerated. Some suffer physicaland mental problems as a result of spending time in prison. Thismeans that they struggle to settle back into the society. Those whospend more time in prisons are affected most. They are forced to livewith what they experienced while incarcerated[ CITATION Med11 l 1033 ].As such, some find it challenging to engage in the society’sbuilding activities to cater for their families. Those from poorfamilies become a burden to their loved ones. A family struggling tosurvive is hit hard with an additional member who cannot take part inmeeting basic needs. This increases the burden to the government asit has to intervene to ensure the survival of its people. Familieswith more than one member serving time or already completed theirtime are affected most. Addressing the mass incarceration challengewill enable the government to make savings in this regard[ CITATION Amn16 l 1033 ].

Massincarceration has also contributed to bad health among inmates.Approximately, 1.5 million people are released from prisons withinfectious diseases[ CITATION Amn16 l 1033 ].Half of those released were also living with their children in prisoncausing disruptions in the family. There is always the risk thatchildren living in prison will have problems adapting to the society.Some are accustomed to the prison life to the extent that the risk ofoffending is high[ CITATION Jam15 l 1033 ].Additionally, there is always the risk that the child will be exposedto bad behaviors at a tender age. As a result, they lack the rightvalues and behaviors essential for them to become productive membersof the society. With health infections as a challenge, ex-convictscan easily spread the same to their family members. As such, theyhave to spend a lot on treatment to regain their health. Low-incomefamilies do take any action to deal with the problem and end upspreading it even more[ CITATION The121 l 1033 ].


Massincarceration is a major issue that the government needs to addressto mitigate the effects associated with it. The United Statesincarcerates higher number of people every year as compared to anyother country in the world. This culture has led to increased povertyespecially among those greatly affected by the same. The UnitedStates also suffers economy wise as a result of mass incarceration.Reducing the number of convicts in prisons will enable the governmentto reduce its expenses on social amenities and focus more on fuelingeconomic development.


Amnesty International. (2016). Mass Incarceration in the USA. Retrieved from Amnesty International: http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/military-police-and-arms/police-and-human-rights/mass-incarceration-in-the-usa

Chesney-Lind, M., &amp Mauer, M. (2011). Invisible Punishment: the Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment. New York, NY: New Pres.

Kilgore, J. W. (2015). Understanding mass incarceration: a people`s guide to the key civil rights struggle of our time. New York, NY: The New Press.

The Informer Reader. (2012). How Prisons Affect Society. The Wall Street Journal.