America’s Prison Crisis

Video highlights from Prison Families

Despite 6,000 prisoners receiving early releases, the United States correctional system is still spiralling out of control

The U.S. Department Of Justice is giving early releases to 6,000 prisoners in the largest ever release of federal inmates.

The release aims to reduce overcrowding and provide relief to drug offenders who received extremely harsh sentences.

The news comes as politicians and community leaders call for major reforms to the criminal justice system.

Currently, the US accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

From 1987 to 2007, the number of incarcerated people in America quadrupled from around 500,000 to 2.3 million, giving the country the world’s highest incarceration rate.

According to the Justice Action Network, ““Today, 1 in 100 American adults are in prison or jail across the country, by far the highest rate of any nation. Prisons and jails in the United States have become overcrowded and offer fewer programs aimed at rehabilitation,” the Justice Action Network says on its website.

“And when men and women are released from prison, they are branded with the stigma of incarceration and are often unable to find jobs, leading some to end up back in prison," the group said.

Even when crime rates dropped in the 1990s and 2000s, the incarceration rate continued to climb.

(Source: The Sentencing Project)

Maintaining such large prison populations doesn’t come cheap. The United States now spends $70 billion dollars a year on corrections. Many states spend more incarcerating their citizens than they do educating them.

Racial disparities are also more prevalent than ever. According to the NAACP, African Americans and Hispanics now make up 58 percent of all prisoners – despite only comprising one quarter of the US population.

African Americans are imprisoned at approximately six times the rate of whites. If current trends continue, one in three black men born today will be incarcerated during their lifetime.

There are no easy solutions to America’s prison crisis. The U.S. Senate is currently considering a prison reform bill that would remove the three-strikes law that and give judges more discretion by cutting mandatory sentencing guidelines.

The impact of prison on American families is staggering – more than half of those incarcerated have minor children.

For more on how incarceration affects parents and children, watch Prison Families – Mondays at 8.30pm from tonight on Nat Geo People.

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