The United States has the world’s largest prison population in both total population, and relative to the nation’s population. In fact, the U.S. prison population dwarfs the rest of the world’s. The U.S. currently has about 2.2 million individuals in prison. Compare that to 2nd place, China, a country that has a 3 times as many citizens, and only has 1.5 million incarcerated individuals. Almost 50% of the yearly sentenced prisoners in the U.S. are there due to drug offenses.
This month, the immensely popular Humans of New York Facebook page did a spotlight on some individuals who are currently incarcerated in the U.S. prison system. Some of them were due to drug offenses. Many of the stories are similar. They were caught selling illegal substances on the street, and were given multiple life sentences for their crimes. In particular, one of the people interviewed was a crack dealer now serving 5 life sentences. He explains that “crack changed everything.” He goes on to say that he sees young drug dealers and addicts go in and out of the facility multiple times. Nothing ever changes. They leave after serving their time and return a few months later after repeating their crime. This really shows a lack of rehabilitation the U.S. prison system provides to drug offenders.
Many individuals who are incarcerated due to drug offenses shouldn’t be in prison; they need help. Help that can’t be provided by the prison system. Giving someone a timeout can’t help treat a disease. Prisoners who are addicted to substances, need a caring, well thought out treatment plan, not a cell. This would lower the prison population, and save the country, and citizens billions of dollars a year, money that could be spent elsewhere. It could be spent on preventative measures like substance abuse education programs. Until then, we’re not going to see any changes in the amount of non-violent drug offenders entering, and exiting the prison system.
Be sure to take a look at the posts we talked about on the Humans of New York Facebook page. They can really help put things into perspective.
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