What You Need To Know About Prison Reform In The United States


The United States is by cliché, patriotic definition the “land of the free, home of the brave.”

However, the idea that we reside in the “freest country in the world” is simply not true.

An important resource by Portland State CCJ points out several facts regarding inmate statistics which might contradict hard-headed, nationalistic beliefs:

● There are over 2.2 million prisoners in the US, making it literally the most incarcerated country in the world.
● 1/3 of the US population has a criminal record.
● 1 in 31 people in the US are under some form of corrections custody such as parole and probation.

Many people in the US are blinded by loyalist beliefs and fail to recognize these statistics. A corollary problem lies within the ways in which our prison system is convoluted and has taken on the shape of big business, rather than rehabilitating citizens and getting them back on track once they continue on with their lives outside of jail.

Rehabilitation should not take on business mindsets, and privately-funded prisons are the root of the problem!

Thankfully, as of this past week a major shift has begun to take place; a shift that will hopefully equate to actual prison reform in the US.

Just last Thursday, U.S. Justice Department officials announced that they plan to begin reducing the use of privately owned prisons that currently house a huge number of federal inmates.

As reported by the Washington Post, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates made an official statement last week. Her memo explains an important goal which involves “reducing and ultimately ending use of privately operated prisons.”

Furthermore, she is quoted saying:

“They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security.”

This is a huge step in the right direction and could equate to many profound restructures in the US prison system. But it won’t happen overnight. This type of drastic change will likely take time.

Yates also wrote that: “at their peak, contract prisons housed approximately 30,000 federal inmates and by May 2017, that number will have dropped by more than half.”

The U.S. government spent $639 million on those facilities in fiscal year 2014, according to the inspector general report. This only represents a small fraction of the overall state and federal prison systems costs.

While the Justice Department announcement will not touch the vast majority of prisoners in the country, federal officials hope their decision will be a model across the correctional field.

So what do we have to look forward to in the future, in terms of changing a clearly flawed prison system?

When prolific changes such as this are set in motion, it can be viewed as model for a better future. Broader change is on the horizon.

“This is a huge deal. It is historic and groundbreaking,” said David Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “For the last 35 years, the use of private prisons in this country has crept ever upward, and this is a startling and major reversal of that trend, and one that we hope will be followed by others.”

If these trends continue, a likely outcome will be fairer inmate treatment, improved rehabilitation for those in jail, and substantial monetary savings that are no longer fed into a for profit system.

The vicious circle of inmate re-incarceration will hopefully begin to dwindle, and the wrath of the prison industrial complex might begin to deteriorate.