There are numerous factors that cause the exponential growth of prisons in the United States, such as the war on drugs, racism, and crime. It is apparent that America's prison's population is rising fast, characterized by overpopulated and congested conditions in the prison cells. Such conditions bring about many unanswered questions about the causes of overcrowding in prisons in the United States, including how to help control the problem.
Crime is a major problem in every society and in the US many people in the society developed a "moral panic" over crime. Many people considered any form of crime as a major problem and wished that there was some social order, which entailed sending many wrongdoers to prison. In addition to this, many prison cells, prison beds, and space were constructed to cater for this demand. In this regard, the way the state defined crime and explained the repercussions of crime was overwhelmed by the societal condemnation of illegal behavior or criminal activities, something that can be explained as "legal panic". The United States began to experience increased incidences of crime back in the 80s and 90s. During this time, there were problems of inflation and lack of employment. However, public anxiety towards social order and social deviance was taking center stage, which further boosted the fast growing rate of prisons in the United States of America.
A rise in the epidemic of drug abuse and trafficking stands as another factor that has fueled the war on drugs, further leading to an exponential growth of prisons in the U.S. Drug abuse and trafficking has been associated with crimes and insecurity, which poses immense problems to the American community. Between 1982 and 1996 the federal and state prisons saw the rise in the number of prisoners accused of drug-related offenses. During this time, the U.S. government became stringent on people accused of drug-related charges. It is also evident that it is during the 1970s and 1980s that drug abuse rose, which further led to the development and expansion of prisons in the United States of America, where drug offenders were caged and tortured.
The Visions of Abolition documentary depicts a real life story where many people resulted in drug abuse and alcohol as a means to cope with stress and depression. However, such actions, especially as unraveled in the documentary were met hard with the onset of "war on drugs", which was implemented back in the 1980s. In this regard, the "war on drugs" action plan led to the rise in many incarcerated drug users, who filled cells and further called for an expansion of the prison cells to cater for the increasing number of charged and convicted drug offenders.
The media and politicians, during this time, took up the subject of drug abuse and condemned people behind the use of illegal substances and trafficking. At this point, many of the people seen to abuse drugs were people of color, who received tough penalties in court and increased suffering in prison cells than the white people. Gang violence, drug peddling, addiction and street fights were common in busy streets of US. Besides, as many companies made structural changes, many people lost their jobs and; therefore, struggled to find stable jobs, which pushed many to drug the peddling business. Over and above, the judiciary came up with more stringent and strict penalties for illegal drug peddlers and users, which further led to the development and expansion of the "prison complex systems" to adopt these new developments.
Racism is a major problem in the American prisons, where many instances reveal that a majority of the prisoners are people of color. Many people of color continue to break the law through engagement in illegal activities, such as drug trafficking or crime. Besides, the basic definition of imprisonment explains the settings set aside for “evildoers” or people who are undesirable. Right from the ancient times in America, when slaves were introduced, people of color were perceived as undesirable and worthless. These accounts continued all the way to the reign of President George W. Bush, where people of different race and “evildoers” were perceived equal. Whenever people of color committed a crime or evil deeds in the U.S., they were treated with harsh sentences and long term charges, including unpleasant or uncomfortable conditions as compared to the white communities. Besides, many black students feel targeted unfairly for petty crimes done and in this regard, end up facing charges in court and stiff penalties, characterized by long serving times in juvenile prisons and jails, with a high number of black population than white. It is also clear that about 80% of the student arrests by the U.S. police in 2014 were characterized by only black people. In this regard, it is unfortunate that as much as prisons are set up for people who break the law, it is clear that people end up forgetting about the challenges that prisoners go through, especially noting that they are selected from “unequal communities”. The society seems to be working hard to forget about the reality of racism and focusing on sending many “wrongdoers” to prison, including making prison expansions to cater for the rising number of law breakers. As racism took center stage in America, many people of color found it difficult to find employment. In this regard, many were forced into illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, which increased social deviation and tougher sentences, including long-term sentencing, which increases congestion and a need for expanding these prisons. As many people of color break the law, more pressure is mounted on a need to develop and expand many more prisons to cater for more law breakers. On this account, it is unfortunate to focus on expanding these prison cells, while overlooking the problem of racism.
The onset of the Prison Industrial Complex has cemented serious inequalities in the United States and is surely detrimental to a collective sense of justice. In particular, Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) explains a quick development and expansion of the American prison population, which seems to be pushed by privately owned prison firms and entities that conduct business with government prisons, such as deliver goods and services. This terminology originated from the Military Industrial Complex, which began in the 1950s, which includes firms that deal with providing various services or goods, such as surveillance equipment, foodstuffs, medical amenities, attorney services and activist groups. PIC seem to be founded on the notion that imprisoning wrongdoers is an effective way of dealing with lawbreakers and solving problems, such as drug abuse, drug trafficking, crimes, violence and other social problems. However, in a country such as U.S. where the problem of racism has been a major challenge for long, such examples of problems appear to be inclined on many non-citizens of U.S. and mainly people of color. It is unfortunate to have companies working together to help develop the prisons, in the name of expanding its populations to help manage social deviation, whereas the highest number of people convicted in these prisons are people of color. The PIC imitative seems to be an intentional move to oppress the people of color as much as it is a gold rush project for profit making. Furthermore, the use of prisoners as a source of cheap labor is modern day enslavement, a factor that adds to the extreme living and working conditions of the disproportionate populations in U.S. prisons. The people behind PIC hide under the disguise of creating a chain of stakeholders aiming to make a profit as compared to mainly punishing law breakers. It seems as if people have taken the full advantage of prison expansions for their selfish gains, which cannot be overlooked.
One of the great policies to adopt in order to help curb crime and restore social sanity is by creating reforms in and out of the prison settings, such as transforming the social structures and creating frameworks that help in boosting the social behavior of the law breakers. Mainly, it is important to look at the social inclinations that characterize these illegal activities and seek to understand what factors pushes individuals to engage in crime, violence or drug abuse. In this view, it will be possible to provide the required remedy than just thinking of incarcerating law breakers with little concern or disproportional issues, social and emotional disturbances or the problem of addiction for illegal drug users. For example, it is important to look at the problem of racism and attempt to create systems that support anti-racism and actions against discrimination and unjust court systems. Besides, there is an urgent need to have the society sensitized about the importance of unity and tolerance for social harmony and sanity to prevail. Such efforts can help bring together the societal fabric and further boost moral behavior of the communities. If more efforts are put in constructing social and psychological settings where people with social, emotional and psychological problems are taken for improvement of their behaviors than prisons, which seem to make their situations worse, crime, violence and drug abuse will be easy to control. Furthermore, the number of lawbreakers of color will reduce if such efforts are implemented more actively rather than seeking to develop the prisons.
As much as the abolitionists call for a complete removal of prisons, there is a way that this subject can be seen through the lens of creating reforms in the prison settings in order to achieve just treatment and fairness. Accountability for the actions of the prison guards and the prison workers will help ensure that every action is recorded and worth making. An introduction of third parties in the management of prisons will also help bring about transparency and impartiality.
It is important to reform the judiciary to help also cater for the poor and the people of color, who lack the voice of action. The judiciary still seems to be designed to suit the white, wealthy and educated people of America. The courts must create ways that the socially challenged can have alternative ways of receiving care other than the painful incarceration and solitary confinement, which makes situations even worse than good. For example, in the juvenile documentary, it is sad to watch as Allen is sent to prison at the age of 15 and further placed in solitary confined for approximately one year. Allen does not receive proper care and treatment, and even when he develops mood disorder and ADHD, he is placed on strong medications and taken back to solitary confinement (caged), which makes his situation a lot worse.
Most of all, the society should be sensitized to begin to look at criminals anew, as human beings. Ex-prisoners should be given another chance in the society where they need to feel fully reintegrated back to their neighborhoods without stigma and discrimination. If the society helps those with social and mental challenges to feel accepted and welcomed, the society will not need prisons. There should be no need for prisons and their alternatives because the society can maintain social order without a need to criminalize others by considering them objects of suffering in order to pay for their actions.