The primary cause of prison growth today is mass incarceration due to ineffective policies such as the war on drugs. When such a policy is put in force, it leads to an increase in arrests and imprisonment, a situation that later increase the number of prisoners. The challenge is made worse by the reality that a majority of the arrests is due to minor crimes associated with illicit drugs. In the United States case, there was a drastic increase in incarceration following the implementation of the war on drugs policy (Pfaff 173). The policy makers, academics, and journalists all place the blame on the ineffective policy, which led to a boom in arrests, convictions, and incarcerations in the last few decades. Low-level drug offenders have been arrested in the efforts to flush out the use of illicit drugs and deal with drug related crimes.
The claim has been easy to believe because the growth in prison population started around the time of the Reagan-era War on Drugs. Around this time, many individuals were arrested for misdemeanor. As long as it is related to drugs, the individuals would end up in prison. It is also no doubt that the efforts to address the problem have focused on dealing with the policy challenges, which is the fundamental cause of the problem. Among the efforts underway in different parts of the United States are geared towards changes in the policy to ensure that those arrested for minor crimes do not necessarily end up in prison (Pfaff 173). To make the system more effective, the mass incarceration for drug related crimes should be addressed. In fact, the policy is the problem that should be targeted.
The cost of incarceration
The society is paying dearly because of the increase in the rate of incarceration, which has serious cost implications because of the cost required to maintain a single prisoner in the correctional facility. The United States, for example, has 700 out of 100,000 individuals in prison, which means that the society has to bear a huge burden in maintaining that kind of population. In the event that there are people in prison for minor crimes, and as long as the trend does not change, it means that the society will continue to face the huge burden. While crime is a major concern in the country, it is evident that the society is paying dearly to keep the inmates in their prison cells (Clear and Frost 33). The cost of imprisonment is high and detrimental considering that high strain on the overall budget in the country.
The economic times are bad for the country, and the burden of imprisonment is high. In addition to the direct cost of maintaining the prisoners, there is the question of lost productivity as prisoners do not have the chance to contribute towards building the economy. Hence the cost is two-folds. The society is largely affected when a huge proportion of its population is in prison. Hence, if the trend continues, the country will have higher economic burden, especially if policy changes are not instituted to change it. Evidence from research indicates that other policy solutions such as rehabilitation of the offenders will be less costly and it is such that should be sought to reduce the growing cost of imprisonment (Clear and Frost 36).
Clear, Todd R., and Natasha A. Frost. The punishment imperative: The rise and failure of mass incarceration in America. NYU Press, 2015.
Pfaff, John F. “The war on drugs and prison growth: limited importance, limited legislative options.” Harv. J. on Legis. 52 (2015): 173-220