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Our Country is Addicted to Incarceration

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Overcrowded prisons and jails are dangerous for inmates, correctional officers, and for society. The United States has the most inmates and prisons in the world. One major cause of our mass incarceration crisis is the excessive imprisonment of non-violent inmates. The United States is addicted to locking up non-violent inmates.

In Ohio, two young heroin addicts faced incarceration for drug addiction. Kaylee Morrison was imprisoned for four years for violating drug laws in Hardin county. Ohio taxpayers will pay $100,000 for the incarceration of this 28-year-old woman who will not receive in prison the appropriate help she needed to control and manage her addiction.

At the same time, another Ohio county used a different strategy for a nonviolent drug offender. Clayton Wood, 29, was referred to the county drug court which ordered drug treatment in his community. He was allowed to work full-time. With this court decision, society did not pay the high cost of imprisoning Mr. Wood and he received treatment for his drug addiction.

In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a local single mother was sentenced to 12-18 months in prison for providing an abortion pill to her teenage daughter to terminate her pregnancy. The single mother, a nursing home aide, purchased the pill online from Europe for her pregnant teenage daughter. The 16-year-old daughter did not want to have the baby and the family did not have health insurance to cover an abortion. However, Pennsylvania law required a physician to perform an abortion.

By locking up this single mother, the family lost her financial and emotional support for a substantial period of time. After release, the mother (burdened with a criminal record) will have difficulty finding employment. In the end, society incurred a large cost for incarcerating this single parent.

What is prison like

In 2009, almost 82 percent of federal prisoners were convicted of nonviolent crimes. The 2008 statistics show that almost 50 percent of the inmates in state prisons were imprisoned for nonviolent offenses. In 2013, the United states had 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s inmates. In this 2016 presidential campaign, for the first time in decades, one party has finally recognized that the United States is suffering from too many inmates and too many jails and prisons.

The United States needs treatment for its addiction.

By Bradley D. Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com

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43 Responses to Our Country is Addicted to Incarceration

  1. PrisonPath June 21, 2016 at 3:47 pm #

    Earnestine– Our Country is not addicted to Incarceration, they are just Greedy. Incarceration is a private industry and the bottom line is all that matters. Incarceration of African Americans Males and Hispanic is at an all time high. This is to ensure that one of our Country’s business of Incarceration remains high in profits. In order to keep profits high, privatization has taken over most jails and prisons. Recidivism is the key to maintaining these high profits for corporations regardless of what this does to cripple our African American and Latino communities. I have an 18 year old son who have to serve 4 months in jail for violation of probation for a shoplifting charge. However, you have a privileged white student of Stanford who is only serving 3 months in prison for Rape. The difference between my son and the Stanford Student is race and status! American is slowly moving to a Caste society

    • Mario June 27, 2016 at 3:07 am #

      Although the author of “Prison Path” may make some valid points, particularly about the effectiveness of drug diversion programs, his article as a whole is misleading. At the outset, a country of our size, topography, and culture should be expected to have a disproportionately large prison population compared to the rest of the world, which is comprised mostly of less industrialized nations with far fewer urban locations, where crime tends to breed. Moreover, as Sherri pointed out in an earlier response, other cultures punish crime without incarceration: e.g., summary executions, public maiming. Private retribution is also popular among such cultures.

      As for the non-violent offenders who comprise the alleged majority of the federal prison population, why should anyone advocate for leniency on their behalf? Why pity the white-collar criminals who defraud average citizens of their life savings while profiting millions of dollars?; or what of the crooked politicians who defraud tax payers and constituents of many more millions? Should they not receive at least the same justice as the thug who robs a solitary victim on the street?

      As for the state and local level criminals, there is some value in incarcerating even the allegedly non-violent offender. A criminal such as a drug addict, for example, will detoxify during the length of his incarceration, with or without a drug program. Additionally, such criminal will be prevented from committing any additional crimes — violent or non-violent — during the length of his incarceration, and may perhaps be deterred from committing additional crimes upon his release.

      Finally, the examples of inequitable sentences and punishments that I have heard cited, assuming these to be true, are in fact tragic. However, they appear to be anecdotal evidence of our less than perfect justice system.

  2. PrisonPath June 21, 2016 at 3:51 pm #

    Bradley Schwartz– Earnestine, you make an excellent point. I would amend my article to include greed as part of this addiction.

  3. PrisonPath June 22, 2016 at 3:26 am #

    Ed— What simplistic emotionally based reasoning. For once I’d like to have a rational dialogue with someone about out criminal justice system. I’d explained further but I can’t do so without repeating everything I’ve ever said or written for the umpteenth tim

  4. PrisonPath June 22, 2016 at 3:28 am #

    ,Ed,Ed, I am grateful that you just insulted only my reasoning. I assure you that simple it maybe, but it’s not emotional.
    by–Bradley

    • Dorenda K Dixon June 30, 2016 at 3:47 pm #

      I thought this article was complete and accurately portrayed the problem of criminalizing the behavior of addiction through imprisoning non-violent offenders. Furthermore, gender bias exist within the criminal justice system as denoted with treating women who are primarily non-violent as if they are equally as violent as male offenders. The over use of incarceration as a way to address the social ills in America is far from providing solutions and alternatives. Your rationale was on the mark no mater what Ed stated. Keep up the good work in highlighting one of the most dangerous problems we have…revenge on our own citizens. This is a historical way we have addressed criminal behavior and decided laws that both have unintended consequences and punishment that is ineffective.
      Dr. Dorenda K. Dixon, Ph.D.

  5. PrisonPath June 22, 2016 at 3:29 am #

    Stephanie– Facts are facts. Statistically sound reasoning Mr. Bradley Schwartz so, even though I may be put through the ringer by Ed for being a girl with emotions, my first thought was not emotional. My first thought was in conjunction with yours. The prison system is completely backward it seems! As Earnestine James stated about the guy going to prison for 3 months for rape?! Another case I read was that a 71 year old man got 25 years for drug possession?! Something is definitely backwards. It would seem that if you have the money and power you don’t have to pay for your crime as much (maybe not at all) as if you are poor.
    I studied criminal justice and wanted to finish, but i got sick. I’m still obsessed with law enforcement and justice. I agree with the both of your rational statements.
    Thank you for indulging my comment.
    Stephani

  6. PrisonPath June 24, 2016 at 12:16 pm #

    Lee– “In 2013, the United states had 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s inmates.” This is not a political/cultural “addiction”. This is corporate greed, social injustice, political manipulation of “we-the-people, and, at base, a foul aspect of how “our country” treats individuals with the combination of an addiction and bad behavior…I call it “treatment genocide

  7. PrisonPath June 24, 2016 at 12:17 pm #

    It probably has something to do with prisons being privately owned and the money they can generate off the inmates. Just a thought.
    By Austin

    • Carol January 21, 2017 at 6:12 pm #

      It is a business period. My daughter who has never been in trouble before has been in jail for almost a year now. She is bipolar and has a seizure disorder. She was on disability because she is mentally disabled. She takes medications and is being denied proper care because the facility she is at is not equipped to take care of someone like her. Her recommendation for release was for her to complete a drug rehab program. We have had 4 beds for her in reputable drug rehabs and every time we go before the judge it is denied. A prosecuting attorney I know well told me if she had been tried anywhere else she would have been probated. The bottom line is the facility she is at gets money for her because she is considered a state inmate. So they will not let her go period. She is in a terrible place but there is nothing I can do about it. They deny her the care she needs by sending her to a facility that can help her. She is a mother of 2 children that I am caring for and I feel totally helpless to do anything about it. The same judge let a child molester and murder go free and keeps someone like my daughter locked up. What is wrong with this picture????

  8. PrisonPath June 24, 2016 at 12:18 pm #

    Many poor people in our country are incarcerated because they can’t pay their fines. Yet incarceration keeps them off payrolls and costs in excess of $30,000 per year! Makes no sense and makes justice the province of the well to do!

    By–Ricky

  9. PrisonPath June 24, 2016 at 12:19 pm #

    The matter is complex. Certainly I have seen as a practicing psychologist many cases of overprescribing medications especially those used for ADHD and anxiety. I’m also aware of some cases where antidepressants were prescribed mistakenly and sometimes appeared to trigger suicidal thoughts. Some research I am aware of suggests for individuals who have bipolar disorder, antidepressants can trigger suicidal tendencies.In addition anxiety is best treated over the long term with cognitive behavioral therapy, not chemotherapy.ADD can often be treated by approaches involving cognitive training rather than medication. Medications have been overused in a simplistic manner to solve complex problems!
    By Ricky

  10. PrisonPath June 24, 2016 at 12:19 pm #

    Law enforcement, the judiciary and corrections work together to assure community justice or safety and due process for offenders.
    by-Stanley

  11. PrisonPath June 24, 2016 at 12:21 pm #

    Barry, you could have at least used data that is not close to 10 years old. For expediency, State prisons are 87% of total inmate population in this country. In 2013, 16% in state prisons were drug offenders. 54% were violent offenders. That does not include property offenders somewhere around 20%. Using Federal data is irresponsible/misleading when citing “non-violent” drug offenders in custody on several levels, especially to those who are ignorant to this topic.
    By William

  12. PrisonPath June 24, 2016 at 12:22 pm #

    Only 13% of all inmates reside in Federal lockups. Fact: Of the 13%, you are correct, roughly 50% are in for “drug” crimes. However, they are not for simple drug possession and have often been plea bargained down from trafficking. Most of the 25,000 drug cases involved the manufacture, sale, or transportation of a drug, while ONLY 2,332 of those cases involved the simple possession of a drug.This number also includes persons convicted of one or more crimes in addition to a drug offense. http://www.ussc.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/research-and-publications/research-publications/2014/FY13_Overview_Federal_Criminal_Cases.pdf
    If you want to compare the US incarceration rates and crime to other countries, let me know. The personal stories are touching.
    By:William

  13. PrisonPath June 25, 2016 at 12:29 am #

    Ed–When the focus is on reducing incarceration rather than on reducing crime, that’s putting the horse before the cart. Reducing crime causes redid incarceration not the other way around.

    Prison crowding. What’s that? Above rated capacity? Design capacity? Operational capacity? We don’t have a standard definition across jurisdictions. In the 1970’s when the federal system had less than 30k inmates I remember setting up bunks in the prison gym because of “severe” overcrowding. Now the federal population is about 195 k and overcrowding is still an issue. If the fed prison pop was to drop to 1970’s levels, critics would scream overcrowding as they did then.

  14. PrisonPath June 25, 2016 at 12:31 am #

    jay– The issue is far more complex than the simply arguments of Mr. Schwartz and Ms. James. I have run a large Prison and teach a variety of courses at the university level including Gangs and Crime and Punishment. You can find individuals comparison of bad judicial decisions to suit your arguments. There is a distinct difference between federal incarceration, state incarceration and local incarceration. I have review thousands of inmate cases files and can professional state that 98% earned their way to the State incarceration level most with multiple offense convictions. For simple fact, 54% of all state inmates are incarceration for VIOLENT offenses with real victims. The state makes no money off incarceration.

  15. PrisonPath June 25, 2016 at 12:31 am #

    Mike– We don’t have an incarceration problem, we have a social problem. Crime and punishment have always gone together. I cannot tell you how discouraging it is to police officers when we keep hearing that the offenders we catch doing all kinds of offenses should be released with what ….. an ankle bracelet. I see the damage these offenders cause every day. Not on TV or in a newspaper article written by someone who has never been touched by crime. I am reminded that in Florida the prison system is called the “Department of Corrections.” They used to say they only have one prison…. FSP outside of Starke – where they house death row. I hate to tell you this,,,,,,, but they haven’t “corrected” anyone

  16. PrisonPath June 25, 2016 at 12:32 am #

    Ed– The mission of “correcting” people was foisted on prisons by a group of religious zealots more than 200 years ago. The quackery tried to cure drunks and other social misfits by making the “penitent.” Even though this experiment failed completely, corrections has been stuck with that unrealistic mission ever since. Hospitals aren’t held accountable if they treat but fail to cure someone of cancer or severe head trauma but prisons are blamed if they fail to turn thugs into responsible individuals.

    It’s time for a new justice paradigm. The good news is that criminal justice has been transforming (not reforming) itself for more than 20 years. The system in concert with citizens has been working to solve problems at the neighborhood level. Much remains to be done but reformers keep working on trying to build a better horse buggy while the system and citizens move to the automobile. And the “experts” don’t seem to have a clue

  17. PrisonPath June 25, 2016 at 12:34 am #

    Daniel– 30 years ago, California took a big drink of the liberal Kool Aid and changed Prisons to Correctional Institutes, and Prison Guards were now Correctional Officers. Schools teach Criminal Justice and not Police Science., how about justice for VICTIMS Prisons don’t correct anyone they exist to house violent criminals and keep them isolated from society. As part of the Prog Social Experiment, they got Coffee, 3 meals a day, TV’s, Vitamins and free Dental and Health care to include sex change hormones. and surgeries. Wake up folks Crime is fun, no work involved, prison feeds you, all your buds are their, you get to pump weights, all the sex you want. Prison should be PUNISHMENT, so bad that no one wants to come back, Death Row should be cleaned out, this will reduce crime Folks, I know I’ve seen it in person. If Africans and Mexicans don’t want to be the majority of the Prison population DON’T COMMIT CRIMES, easy

  18. PrisonPath June 25, 2016 at 12:34 am #

    Ooooor……maybe to many of our citizens are addicted to committing crimes…..”the ever-growing lack of personal accountability and self magement
    By steve

  19. PrisonPath June 25, 2016 at 12:35 am #

    Ed– And there ‘s never a shortage of enablers who excuse their behavior by trying to shame us into not incarcerating them. They speak of the incarcerated as if they’re free of any guilt or harm caused to others. They imply we’re “over incarcerating” or practicing “mass incarceration” simply because we’re so mean and uncaring. I myself reserve my compassion for the victims rather than for the victimizes. If we can’t tell one from the other, God help us.

  20. PrisonPath June 25, 2016 at 12:36 am #

    Gentlemen, you are all great! I don’t agree with most of your opinions, but it’s a fascinating commentary.
    By: Bradley

  21. PrisonPath June 25, 2016 at 9:31 pm #

    Brad, who caused the mentally ill to be incarcerated, as opposed to, being placed in mental health facilities or hospitals? Please identify which correctional institution/administrator/professional that wishes to incarcerate and deal with mentally ill patients? Those that are locked up for fees and fines have usually expended the “good faith” of the CJ system, thus ultimate leading to incarceration. Why have fines and fees if there are no consequences for paying? You keep quoting “too many nonviolent drug offenders” incarcerated and I continue to give you the numbers that dispute your claim. You want less people in jail, what is the end game/acceptable numbers/timeframe/racial and offense makeup/ that will satisfy reformers?
    By William

  22. PrisonPath June 25, 2016 at 9:32 pm #

    I respectfully disagree with the both of you. America has crimes, but this country has an incarceration problem. We lock up mentally ill individuals who have committed minor offenses instead of providing mental health care for those persons in their local community. In some states, there are individuals locked up for fines, etc. There are too many serving time for nonviolent drug offenses. At least, there are state that have recognized this problem and have come up with drug courts and drug treatment programs. I can go on, but it is time for sleep. Good night to all!

    By Bradlet

  23. PrisonPath June 25, 2016 at 9:33 pm #

    Police follow laws, when they respond to calls for service, what do you suggest police do with these “violators”? Fees, fines, desk appearance tickets? Your website states, “..posts articles every week about the numerous problems confronting our prison systems..” Maybe, instead of posting articles about our prison systems, which is constantly evolving, post or advocate for articles regarding tackling the family breakdown, lack of education that is the pathway to poverty and crime link.
    By William

  24. PrisonPath June 25, 2016 at 9:34 pm #

    “The 2008 statistics show that almost 50 percent of the inmates in state prisons were imprisoned for nonviolent offenses.” I would love to know where this stat comes from and how it was determined. I doubt its validity, and I would borrow another gentleman’s line that Al Capone was also locked up for a “non-violent” crime.

    I would agree that there are far too many people in prison, but I would argue that this is a failing in the social system (aka, families, schools, etc) rather than the correctional system. The jails and prisons are just doing their jobs.

    Oh, and final note: Yes, we do have more people in prison than many other countries. Perhaps we should follow some good examples and whip people in public instead? Or cut people’s hands off for stealing? It would save the tax payers a lot of money!
    by: Sherri

  25. PrisonPath June 25, 2016 at 9:36 pm #

    I don’t find it to be an addiction but I do find that we need to follow the guidelines the same when it comes to sentencing. This is the true reason why we have so many incarcerated.
    By Curly

  26. PrisonPath June 25, 2016 at 9:37 pm #

    if we put money into mental health care and drug recovery we would see a significant reduction in incarcerated individuals and reentry. in addition when people have paid their penalty, their record reduces their ability to sustain employment that they can survive on. the jails and prisons are not doing their jobs, they are in a very high money making business so there is no reason for them to help people get skills and treatment to not come back.

    Sherri, based on your comments I really hope you are not a mental health care giver because apparently you don’t understand the conditions. let alone drug addiction is a disease.

  27. PrisonPath June 25, 2016 at 9:38 pm #

    I agree with you , Dana, but I would also add that comparing the USA to countries that use barbaric punishments is Non sequitur. A valid comparison should compare the United States to European countries.

    By: Bradley Schwartz

  28. PrisonPath June 25, 2016 at 9:59 pm #

    I agree that our high incarceration rate is not just the fault of our prisons. It is caused by our broken system of justice. For example, we incarcerate mentally ill offenders who really need mental health care in their local community. Our sentencing for many years took sentence discretion away from the judges. There are numerous judges on the record who have indicated that mandatory sentencing in some cases was unfair and unreasonable. This is why the trend now is to eliminate this problem. We are now seeing alternate options for drug offenders in certain states such as New Jersey. The list goes on!

    By Bradley Schwartz

  29. PrisonPath June 27, 2016 at 12:57 pm #

    When you have a society that glorifies criminals in every media venue and platform, what do you expect? Because of young people being ‘hooked’ on those hand-held devices, and an education system which no longer teachers right, wrong, or critical thinking or about God and right acting, the low information crowd ‘think’ they can act like their favorite crime show…and are shocked; SHOCKED that someone wants to lock them up. Lastly, you have a DOJ that is ‘manning the erasers’ to get rid of every trace of language that designates what a criminal is, and what a radical Islamic extremist is not.
    By–M.G.

  30. PrisonPath June 27, 2016 at 12:59 pm #

    sorry if I was a little overboard on my passion About the prison system. just with all I have experienced in my own family, other families and the research I have been collecting fir 5 years, I wish there was something good that could help peeps that go down this path. I am starting work with a program in the community that helps recent inmates released to understand the world outside . I how thru was I can share in coaching, mentoring and teaching I can make a difference. I agree there are consequences for actions. its just difficult to see an individual who didn’t take their needed meds to go to prison instead of a mental health facility. I appreciate your patience with me. Have a blessed day.
    By–Dana

  31. PrisonPath June 27, 2016 at 1:02 pm #

    Eh, it happens. I’ve been known to be a little passionate about my beliefs too. I think the issue is that is needs to start BEFORE they end up in prisons, and that blaming prisons for not “fixing” them once they get there doesn’t help. As has been said elsewhere, we don’t get angry with churches for being unable to reform a sinner, so my get angry with correctional officers who are doing their best? If we could KEEP them from prison in the first place, things would be far better.

    As for individuals with mental health issues, trust me I have never yet seen a prison where they were eager to get those individuals in. They are simply too difficult. As for where to put them, I think there are more factors than just the illness. Was the crime committed because of the illness (stats prove this is not always the case by a pretty large margin)? Were they off their meds, and if so was it because they CHOSE to go off them, because they weren’t working or because they couldn’t afford them? I work with several people who do well on meds, but have continuously chosen to not take them. Over and over, they have stopped their meds and committed a violent crime, or multiple violent crimes because of that choice. They cannot be trusted to anything BUT the judicial system because they have betrayed society’s trust too manyy times and are too violent. Again, if we could force medicate them in the community, everyone would be better off, but that isn’t allowed.
    By-Sherri

  32. PrisonPath June 27, 2016 at 1:05 pm #

    Contributors to this issue: undiagnosed learning disabilities, diagnosed unremediated learning disabilities, mental health, functional illiteracy, abandonment issues, and children of inmates with or with out these issues. When does this madness stop? Obviously, addressing these issues when they are children. The educational system has failed and is still failing children. Common core is a disaster!
    by-Lucy

  33. PrisonPath June 28, 2016 at 5:24 pm #

    Thanks Sherri, point well taken. The only addiction problem related to incarceration is the non accountability factor. I don’t pretend to be an expert in anything related to prisons but I have yet to see any data that shows police getting any kickbacks from prison officials for making arrests. This country has laws and when people make the conscious choice to break them, there are consequences. It’s that simple.
    By-Richard

  34. PrisonPath June 28, 2016 at 5:25 pm #

    Richard, it would be worthwhile to look at the relationship between private prisons and the states. See http://www.prisonpath.com/do-private-prisons-help-society/

    By–Bradley Schwartz

  35. PrisonPath June 28, 2016 at 5:26 pm #

    Bradley, thanks for the article it’s very interesting. I spent my entire career in California where prisons, to the best of my knowledge, are state run. Again, I don’t pretend to be an expert but do those states that passed legislation to pay regardless of capacity pay local law enforcement to make arrests? Do they pay judges/juries to ensure convictions? Back to accountability. Don’t break the law and you don’t have to worry about incarceration.
    From Richard

  36. PrisonPath June 28, 2016 at 5:27 pm #

    I also find it fascinating that we are concerned about companies making money to house inmates (which is fulfilling the goal that makes them look good), but NO ONE talks about states changing the laws to reduce incarceration rates, or certain types or inmates – despite potential risk to the public – in order to make themselves look good. In fact, releasing inmates early or changing laws to keep them from being incarcerated is often seen as “progressive.” Even when the data shows this result in more crime.
    By:Sherri

  37. PrisonPath June 28, 2016 at 5:27 pm #

    I want to be clear, I am not suggesting at all that the police or judges are being paid to incarcerate. In my inarticulate way, I am only discussing the numerous issues that have led to too many inmates and too many prisons in our country.
    By: Bradley

  38. PrisonPath June 28, 2016 at 8:49 pm #

    Bradley I still have to believe the reason there are too many inmates is that too many people made that choice…That being said I believe there is room for improvement in many areas of law enforcement, including the prison/corrections sector.
    By-Richard

  39. Amy July 1, 2016 at 6:56 pm #

    The U.S. incarcerates 716 people for every 100,000 residents, more than any other country. In fact, our rate of incarceration is more than five times higher than most of the countries in the world. Although our level of crime is comparable to those of other stable, internally secure, industrialized nations,5 the United States has an incarceration rate far higher than any other country.

    Explain this! Please read “Three Felonies A Day”. If you can complete this book without find one felony that you have committed, please pat yourself on the back and call the Vatican to canonize you because you are a living saint. Over criminalization is the real reason for the exploding prison population. Everything from crossing the street in the wrong place to wearing the wrong color shirt is a crime. You have just not been caught.

  40. Bradley Schwartz July 3, 2016 at 12:45 am #

    Completely agree with you Tony. Prevention is the best strategy for tackling the high imprisonment rates. Certainly criminal justice policies should be left for the judiciary to determine the degree of culpability and professionals to assess/predict recidivism/rehabilitate. Unfortunately, this area has become a football ground for politics over the past several decades. I think there is a lot we can learn from the Nordic nations if we were to address criminal justice issues.
    By–Yilma

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