Over the past 40 years, America’s incarceration rate has proliferated by 700 percent; to specify, there are approximately 716 prisoners for every 100,000 people in the country (Goffman, 2016). This upheaval has shed a light on the many problems of the American prison system, particularly in the political sector.
Due to the bail process, when an impoverished individual is arrested, they are automatically at a disadvantage. The act of being detained until their trial because of insufficient funds is violating and overstepping the rights of many underprivileged American citizens. If found guilty at their trial, an individual instantaneously becomes an inmate. Inmates are directly affected by the poor conditions in many overpopulated prisons. Furthermore, many groups within the inmate population are mistreated for many different reasons. To be specific, black inmates are experiencing excessive discrimination while mostly heterosexual inmates are violated and raped in many prisons. Overall, the American prison system is negatively impacting detainees and inmates, especially when looking at it through the political lens. If an American citizen is arrested but does not have the sufficient amount of money to pay their bail, then they are detained until the day of their trial.
However, Laura Appleman, an Associate Professor of Law, argues that “…the conditions of most pretrial detentions differ little from punitive incarceration, subjecting these offenders to the worst of conditions without even a guilty verdict…” (Appleman, 2012).
To elaborate, individuals who are being held in a pretrial detention are being unjustly exposed to harsh conditions to that of a prison. For instance, Alice Goffman, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, shares a story about her friend, Chuck, in her Ted Talk about young people and prison. She emphasizes that Chuck was charged with an aggressive assault case that sent him to adult county jail where he spent almost his entire senior year because he could not afford to pay the bail. Nonetheless, Chuck eventually had a trial in which the judge dismissed most of the charges (Goffman, 2016). Undoubtedly, many individuals are being stripped of their rights without being declared guilty in a court of law. “As such, these pretrial detainees would appear to have a cognizable claim for the denial of their Sixth Amendment jury trial right, which, at its broadest, forbids punishment for any crime unless a cross-section of the offender’s community adjudicates his crime and finds him guilty” (Appleman, 2012). In other words, individuals are being rejected their right to trial during the pretrial detainment period in which they are punished.
The injustice that detainees are undergoing, as discussed by Appleman and Goffman, relates to the maltreatment of inmates in overpopulated prisons. “Before 1970, America never had more than 350,000 prisoners…We now have more prisoners than China, and China has a billion more people than we do”, illustrates Peter Moskos, an Associate Professor in the Department of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (Moskos, 2016). Mass incarceration in American prisons is a critical problem that endangers the vast amount of prisoners within them.
For example, Stefan Bachman, who has a Juris Doctor degree from Samford University and Cumberland School of Law, points out that “Alabama’s prison system currently houses nearly twice as many inmates as it was designed to handle. As a result, prison officials pack over 200 inmates into single dormitories without air conditioning or adequate toilet and shower facilities. These tight living conditions often cause violence amongst inmates, much of which goes unreported” (Bachman, 2014). Many states, like Alabama, are not providing the surplus of housed inmates with the appropriate conditions or amenities required for survival and maintenance.
In fact, Joan Petersilia, qualified for the argument on the basis of his education and occupation related to law, reveals that the provision of “constitutionally inadequate medical and mental health services” in prisons, as a direct result from overcrowding, violates the Eighth Amendment that protects the inmates from cruel and unusual punishment (Petersilia, 2014). Therefore, the lack of resources provided by prisons due to overpopulation are depriving inmates from their Eighth Amendment rights. Unfortunately, criminologists, Todd Clear and James Austin, proclaim that “.
..over the last thirty-six years, the United States has built a policy designed to grow prisons” (Clear & Austin, 2009). Thus, the United States has a policy integrated into the prison system that will effectively continue to increase the population of prisons.
This reinforces the continuity of inmates being deprived from their bare necessities and Eighth Amendment rights. Within the inmate population, groups of people with a certain characteristic are taken advantage of. These characteristics can range from black to heterosexual.
For starters, prisons in America have played a distinct role in racial discrimination nationwide. Justin Smith, who has experience in Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work, expresses that “mass incarceration has markedly contributed to the institutionalization of racial residential segregation across the United States due to its influences on economic status and employment, group prejudice and housing preferences, and housing discrimination” (Smith, 2012). The unfortunate discrimination and division of black people, a minority, in prison has bled into civilization and the everyday life of prisoners and non prisoners. On the other hand, heterosexual people, the majority of the population, are equally as violated and mistreated in prison. Valerie Jenness and Michael Smyth, who have extensive knowledge on the Department of Criminology, Law, and Society, declare that “prison rape has become increasingly visible as a pressing issue for corrections officials and lawmakers; redefined as a civil rights violation for inmates and wards; taken up by the courts as a form of “cruel and unusual punishment”; and politicized as an issue inextricably intertwined with faith-based initiatives, human rights, public health, and public safety” (Jenness & Smyth, 2011). The rights of many inmates are invaded when they endure the horrifying experience of prison rape. The worst part is that “.
..in the summer of 2010, U.S, Attorney General Holder missed the statutory deadline to adopt the Commission’s standards, ensuring they remain—at least for the time being— recommendations rather than legally binding public policy that shape the management of prisons and other detention facilities in the modern era” (Jenness & Smyth, 2011).
With that being said, a policy supporting the abolition of prison rape is nonexistent, only recommendations are being addressed. Ultimately, many different groups of inmates with a certain characteristic are targeted and dispossessed of their rights. In summation, there many political problems within the American prison system.
As impoverished American detainees are deprived from their Sixth Amendment rights due to the bail process, inmates are deprived from their Eighth Amendment rights due to poor conditions caused by overpopulation. When examining specific issues among inmates, black people are segregated while mostly heterosexuals are abused. Thus, the American prison system has an overall negative impact on detainees and inmates.