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DePaul University Mass Incarceration & America Criminal Justice System Responses


Review the 2 responses – Do you support or not support the proposed action steps? Please provide a rationale for either selection. Each answer should be 1-2 paragraph. No references.

Discussion 1. Mass incarceration has slowly become an epidemic in America, and our prison population is still growing. This unjust system exploits the labor of incarcerated individuals, gives them punishments that do not fit the crime, and benefits corporate America at the expense of those living in poverty and the working class. Mass incarceration is tearing apart communities and families by locking up family members for years on end. The laws that apply to those living in poverty do not seem to apply to the wealthy. Many people are in jail or prison simply because they cannot afford to pay bail. Those that are wealthy may be arrested, but they do not stay long, even if the offence is serious, because they can pay their way out. This proves that the judicial system targets the poor and takes advantage of them. Three things we need to do to end mass incarceration are:

1. Legalize marijuana, and further down the road, legalize all drugs. The result would not be drug addicts everywhere because it is legal now, but rather they are treated as having a chronic illness (an addiction) rather than being treated like a criminal and thrown in jail, which does not work at rehabilitating drug addicts or even criminals.

2. Expunge and free those in prison for low-level, nonviolence drug offences. Once marijuana is legal, all those in prison for possession or sale of marijuana should be sent home. There is an entire cannabis industry in America right now with millions of dollars worth of profits, but there are poor people still in jail because they had a joint on them at the wrong time. Many people would be sent home if this were to happen, taking a huge chunk out of our massive prison population.

3. Defund the police. A big reason that low-income communities have such a hard time with being in and out of prison is because they are over-policed. Police do not help the communities that they serve, they are bad for them and make the conditions worse. There are more affluent communities that do not have police presence 24/7, and they are not being harrassed by police constantly, and they are thriving. The communities that are the most safe are not the ones with the most police, but the ones with the most resources. Part of defunding the police would be to give resources back to the communities that police have hurt the most. That way, people do not have to turn to crime to put food on the table and less people would be in prison.

This would take years of policy and advocacy work, but it seems to me like we are already headed in that direction. Something certainly has to be done because the current state of our prisons is not sustainable, and neither is the current state of the communities that mass incarceration affects.

Discussion 2. While many issues within our society need to be addressed, I believe that criminal justice reform is one of the most pressing. America’s criminal justice system is in dire need of reform at the local, state, and national levels. Currently, “America holds 5% of the world’s population yet over 25% of the world’s prison population, the nation has the highest incarceration rate in the world” (Smith, 2021).

There are three primary reasons why the system needs to be reformed. First, our prisons are overcrowded. There are 2.3 million Americans incarcerated and 5 million on probation or parole. Second, mandatory minimum sentencing laws are stripping judges of their authority to impart fair and just punishments based on the unique facts of each case. Third, the system is inherently racist and disproportionately impacts minorities and the poor (Smith, 2021).

According to Amend episode 6, minorities and immigrants have historically been demonized to subject them to unjust imprisonment. This unfair practice significantly contributed to today’s epidemic. According to Pew Research, “in 2018, black Americans represented 33% of the sentenced prison population, nearly triple their 12% share of the U.S. adult population. Whites accounted for 30% of prisoners, about half their 63% share of the adult population. Hispanics accounted for 23% of inmates, compared with 16% of the adult population” (Gramlich, 2020).

Three action steps to address the issue through public policy, law, and judicial interventions include:

  • Reform at the local level includes appointing prosecutors that understand the need to reform the system and recognizes the impact of systemic racism within the system.
    • At the state level, more social workers should be integrated within the state prisons to help prepare inmates for release.
    • Nationally, the mandatory minimum laws need to be eliminated and the disparity in the sentences for crack versus cocaine
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