About Prisons in the USA

The United States leads the world in putting its’ citizens behind bars. Despite a decline of crime in the last two decades, the rate of incarceration has continued to increase. One of the main factors contributing to the high rate of the prison population is the criminalization of certain drugs. At the same time, overdose deaths by prescription drugs, which are legal, have quadrupled in the last 10 years and now claim more lives than heroin and cocaine combined.

The facts and numbers behind the prison industry are distressing. According to statistics complied by the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy center dedicated to prison reform, there are an estimated 2.4 million citizens behind bars in the United States — a 500 percent increase over the past 30 years (“The Sentencing Project”). One in every nine people in prison is serving a life-sentence and approximately 10,000 of those have been convicted of non-violent crimes. Fifty percent of those imprisoned on the Federal level are there for drug charges, and the number of drug offenders in state prisons has increased thirteen-fold since 1980 (“The Sentencing Project”). These are some of the devastating facts affecting our society resulting from our society’s approach to drug policy.

Recidivism rates in the United States remain high and barriers to reentry are many and complex. According to a 2011 study by the Pew Center on the States, recidivism rates remain at around 40 percent. “If more than four out of 10 adult American offenders still return to prison within three years of their release, the system designed to deter them from continued criminal behavior clearly is falling short”. Angela J. Hattery and Earl Smith write in their book Prisoner Reentry and Social Capital that having social capital is a key factor in successful reentry, “…When men and women exiting prison have support networks that provide access to information about housing and employment, or can even provide references for apartment leasing or employment, individuals with an otherwise grim prognosis for successful reentry were able to …successfully become productive members of their local communities”.