• Jackson Baltes

Correcting the Correctional System

Former U.S President Barack Obama stated in a 2005 speech that; “literacy is the most basic currency of the knowledge economy that we’re living in today.” What he means by this is that the ability to read and write is one of the most basic and fundamental practices in our society. Obama goes as far as comparing literacy to something as significant as the economy in this quote in order to emphasize how far literary abilities have become intertwined into are society.

In the 2008 presidential election, it is well known that Obama campaigned on promises of pursuing a racially equitable society through pledges of expanding public education and reforming the criminal justice system. Obama and his base viewed the systems which he vowed to fix as geared away from the benefit of ethnic minorities. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, state and federal legislative bodies passed sentencing laws that were “tough on crime” to combat a nationwide “crime wave”. The most notable of these laws was the “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act'' sponsored by U.S Congressmen Jack Brooks of Texas and then Senator Joe Biden of Delaware in 1994. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation was that this “crime wave” only existed on American television screens and the crime bill was introduced to solve a problem that did not exist. The crime bill has widely been blamed for huge swells in prison populations that disproportionately affect people of color and ethic minorities. New York city mayor Bill DeBlasio stated in a 2019 CNBC interview that, “the crime bill was the foundation of that horrible era of mass incarceration”.

According to an article by the Prison Policy Initiative or PPI, “poverty, lack of quality education, and little job opportunity have been central to the argument of prison vulnerability for decades.” What this means is that if you come from a poor neighborhood and live in poverty, it is very likely that you will receive a poor education, and if you somehow manage to finish school in the first place, it is next to impossible to apply your lack of education in the job market. What comes after you can’t find a job is your reverberation back into a lifestyle of crime in order to get by. This pattern of “re-incarceration” is very well established and occurs on a frequent basis.

Most people assume that one's ability to succeed after coming out of prison can only be accredited to their determination and will to not break any laws again. While this is a fair assessment to make, it ignores critical information and events that take place behind the curtain. While in prison, inmates have little, if any opportunities to prepare themselves for their reentry to the normal world. Considering prison is a place that is designed to be horrible, one would naturally try to stay away from there. This is exactly what happens, however, as mentioned before, how can one stay out of prison permanently if they can’t find a job?

It is no big secret that the criminal justice system has and will continue to suffer with the problems of mass incarceration. The system continues to put individuals it has vowed to reform at a disadvantage for their reentry into society. Unless we make systematic changes, the U.S will continue to wastefully spend billions of taxpayer dollars year after year on an unfair, ineffective and above all useless system.

Works Cited

Quijano, Elaine. “De Blasio: 1994 crime bill was a “huge mistake”” YouTube, uploaded by CBS News, 30 May. 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xq-JrH5tAnw

Wikipedia contributors. “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Archived 18 Sep. 2008. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violent_Crime_Control_and_Law_Enforcement_Act

Harris, Kamala. “Kamala Harris Talks Mental Health And Failed War On Drugs | NBC News” YouTube, uploaded by NBC News, 24 Apr. 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shCbObM2DSw

Michon, C. 1 Apr. 2016. Uncovering Mass Incarceration’s Literacy Disparity, https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2016/04/01/literacy/