Prison Reform in United States Essay

Prison Reform in United States Essay

Prison Reform in United States Sample Paper


The United States criminal justice system is riddled with fundamental flaws that make it inefficient. The need for prison reforms in America stems from the need to maintain public safety while constructing a positive culture within the country’s prison system. By the end of 2020, nearly 2.2 million adult Americans were incarcerated in different corrections facilities (Vuk et al., 2020 Prison Reform in United States Essay). The high incarceration rate, however, underscores the goal of altering the process of incarceration by positively changing lifestyles, behavior, and attitudes. The objective of the reforms is to change America’s prison system from a punishment-based system to one that corrects and empowers prisoners to become better citizens when they leave prison. This paper examines the history and scope of prison reforms in the U.S.

Prison Reform in United States Essay

Brief History of America’s Prison System

Arguably, the high rate of incarceration in America is the result of the ‘tough-on-crime’ laws approach adopted in the 1980s. From the ’80s, America started witnessing a surge in the rate of crimes, especially violent crimes. To contain the menace, the U.S. government adopted a policy of cracking hard on criminals while dishing out tough punishments for crimes. However, this approach did target only violent offenders, and in the 1990s, America’s prisons were filled with non-violent offenders. This marked the beginning of the surge in the numbers of American prisons.

Comparatively, the United States has the highest incarceration rates in the world. According to Pettit and Gutierrez (2018 Prison Reform in United States Essay), America’s population accounts for approximately 4% of the world’s population but holds 22% of all the people incarcerated worldwide. By 2016, out of America’s population of 324 million people, close to 2.3 million were incarcerated. This figure means that 0.7% of America’s population are currently in jail for various offenses.

Objectives of Prison Reforms in America

The primary objective of prison reforms is to transform the lives of convicts, though, among other strategies, enabling smooth transition into the community post-incarceration. The tough-on-crime approach that earlier characterized the American criminal justice system focuses more on punishment rather than reformation. According to the supporters of prison reforms, the prison system should provide a constructive and dignified experience for convicts (Simon, 2018 Prison Reform in United States Essay). It is critical for the prison system to ensure that convicts use their time constructively while incarcerated. As such, there is need to provide convicts with the necessary tools and resources that can transform their lives during incarceration and reduce recidivism rates post-incarceration (Simon, 2018). Noteworthy though is that very few convicts can get jobs to sustain themselves due to their criminal records. With this point in mind, prisoners should be accorded skills such as carpentry skills, automotive repair skills, or other skills that make them useful once released. With such skills, ex-convicts can embrace self-employment and become productive members of the society.

Mass incarceration cost America billions of dollars annually that could be put to better use. The Bureau of Justice estimates that America spends an average of $175 billion annually, however, this figure only refers to the operating costs. The inclusion of such costs as court costs and costs paid by families to support the jailed can easily see the figure rise to 300 billion (Mai, 2017 Prison Reform in United States Essay). The problem is that even with these figures, Americans do not get any value addition to public safety. Crime researchers argue that since there is no improvement to public safety, this amount of money should be used on most pressing needs such as public housing, health, and education (Mai, 2017 Prison Reform in United States Essay). Reducing mass incarceration will put a stop to the ever-increasing costs of operating America’s over-populated prisons and jails. The American government should consider alternative ways of punishing offenders rather than through incarceration. For example, non-violent offenders should be punished through non-custodial methods such as community sentences. This approach reduces prison congestion and also the costs of prison operations.

Fundamentally, prison reforms aim to change America’s prison system from a punitive to a rehabilitative system. A poll conducted in the U.S. in 2016 shows that up to 85% of Americans assert that the American corrections system should focus more on rehabilitation as opposed to punishment (Barker & Miller, 2017). Indeed, many Americans still believe that people should pay for the crimes they commit. However, majority of the U.S. citizens assert that the primary goal of prisons and jails is reforming people so that they can become better citizens once they complete their jail time (Barker & Miller, 2017). Today, many ex-convicts find it difficult to re-integrate into the society once they complete their sentences. The negative perception of convicts by the public is partly the failure of America’s criminal justice system that focuses more on punishing criminals as opposed to reforming their behaviors. With the lack of behavior reforms, many convicts find themselves committing crimes once released. America’s prison department should emphasize reforms and rehabilitation so that when convicts are released, the public can have faith in them to contribute to public safety.

Another critical objective of prison reforms in America is to promote justice and equality for all. America’s justice system is highly corrupt such that a substantial number of convicts are in prison simply because they are poor (Hetey & Eberhardt, 2018 Prison Reform in United States Essay). Conversely, other criminals/offenders have managed to escape prison sentences because they are wealthy and can buy their way out. In short, America’s justice system favors the wealthy while it is extremely punitive to the poor (Hetey & Eberhardt, 2018 Prison Reform in United States Essay). Moreover, America’s justice and prison system are highly discriminatory to certain races or ethnic groups. America’s experiment with the mass incarceration of African Americans is an excellent example of injustice and inequality in the country’s criminal justice system. The number of adult African Americans incarcerated in America is on average 2.5 times that of whites even though the total population of blacks in America is less than a quarter of America’s population (Blankenship et al., 2018). To remedy this injustice, the American government seeks to reform the justice and prison departments to adopt the approach of ‘justice and equality for all.’ This approach ensures that everyone gets equal treatment before the law, whether white, black, poor, or rich.


The failure of the American criminal justice system to effectively reduce crime and model behavior change among incarcerated criminals necessitates a shift from punishment to rehabilitation. The crime wave in the 1980s prompted America to adopt the ‘tough-on-crime’ approach to curb criminal activities and to sound a warning to would-be offenders. This approach led to mass incarcerations that created a massive mess in America’s prisons and correctional facilities. The goal of prison reform in America is to transform the lives of convicts and enable smooth transition into civilian life post-incarceration. For supporters of prison reforms, the prison system should provide a constructive and dignified experience for convicts. The system of merely punishing offenders through incarceration does not yield much value for Americans, hence the need for critically objective reform initiatives.

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