The justice system: still flawed, still discriminatory

by Kemi Giwa, Staff Columnist

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Despite the ongoing decline in crime since 1980s, the U.S. prison population has grown exponentially.

This is extremely disturbing, especially when one considers that the U.S. accounts for 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, yet only 5 percent of the global population.

As one would imagine, keeping up with this severe overpopulation requires a significant amount of funding for prisons — and less in areas like education.

Lack of proper funding in an area as pertinent as education will have dire consequences. An entire generation of ill-educated children will turn into ill-educated adults who will be unable to attend college or obtain a well-paying job. As a result, entire groups of people will fall deeper into the depths of poverty, reliance on government assistance and crime.

Despite how mass media portrays African-Americans and Latinos, they are not more criminal than their Caucasian counterparts. Rather, this is due to police discrimination, the war on drugs targeting poor communities of color, and lack of counseling for the poor and racial disparities when sentencing for crimes.

Many offenders with mental illness do not receive treatment during incarceration, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Without treatment, conditions can only worsen and prisoners will become a greater threat to themselves and others.

Furthermore, mentally ill prisoners are placed into crowded prisons and subjected to punishments inappropriate for their conditions.

In addition, due to their imprisonment, an individual with mental illness may have lost their job or access to programs that have sustained them. This increases the likelihood of homelessness and recidivism.

Inmates are not being properly reformed in the “correctional” system. Rather, rehabilitation has taken a back seat and prisons are focused on a “get tough on crime” approach, which sees punishment as a prison’s main function. This permanently prevents an ex-prisoner’s ability to reform and adjust to society upon release.

Once released from prison, it is almost impossible to function in society. Not only does imprisonment destroy families, but ex-felons are barred from being able to contribute to society, such as not being able to vote.

Furthermore, upon release, it is much harder for ex-felons to get jobs, especially those of color.

A study by Harvard professor Devah Pager demonstrated employers who were unlikely to check on the criminal history of Caucasian male applicants seriously discriminated against African-American applicants and even moreso if they had a criminal record.

In addition, ex-felons face barriers to finding housing and employment, regaining custody of their children, receiving personal loans or financial aid toward school, or possessing other resources necessary for reintegrating into society.

Ex-felons’ inability to effectively re-enter society essentially prolongs their punishment past imprisonment and presents a myriad of barriers to improving their lives and providing for their families.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, within three years of release, two-thirds of the state prisoners were rearrested.

Ultimately, many fail to notice the issue of the prison system in the U.S. because the media plays such a large role in molding a false perception of prisoners, which causes resentment and a lack of empathy.

Nearly 75 percent of the thousands of people in local jails are there for non-violent offenses.

One must consider if the right place for non-violent offenders is prison and not alternatives, such as rehabilitation facilities

All in all, it is critical to understand that this is a system based off of privileges that aim to protect Caucasians, wealthy and mentally stable.

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