Mass Incarceration in America

Adam Galliano, Writer

Across the state of Idaho, the ever-rising need and utilization of correctional facilities and institutions designed to house incarcerated individuals has become an important topic of discussion.
Many facilities throughout the state are overcrowded and in need of repair. This problem is not only happening in Idaho. As long as America has crime and a criminal justice system, there will be a need for incarceration.
The United States of America has a population of 327.2 million people, roughly five percent of the total global population of 7.8 billion people, according to 2018 US Census data (Worldometers, 2019). The U.S. does hold one alarming distinction from others that rises far above the rest of the planet: our incarceration rate.
This number becomes alarming when placed in comparison with the next closest country, China, with 1.5 million incarcerated individuals. When you go down the list worldwide, these numbers drop dramatically.
Has crime become more prevalent due to population increases, or has the criminal justice system become more focused and direct in pushing those who have committed a crime?
One data area shows that the trend began in the early 1980s. During this time, the U.S began a major war on drugs and illegal substances. Aggressively implementing anti-drug policies and applying more harsh sentences for drug crimes began filling up jails and prisons at record levels. In conjunction with these sentences came longer terms and increased fines and fees.
While many facilities are becoming overcrowded, institutions are looking to upgrade and expand to help ease some of the congestion being faced. Here in Idaho, as recently as mid-November, a ballot implemented in Twin Falls county was written to budget a $1.5 million jail expansion. While on paper the need for more jail space and better facilities is logical and important, voters did not see the positives when weighed against the tax increases, and the bill was denied.
The city is detailing a plan to rent or purchase portable jail cell “trailers” and is considering sending some inmates to other jurisdictions that have more readily available space.
Although the problems of an overcrowded system might be directly linked to an increase in crime, the question arises: what is the right solution when it comes to overcoming a system that keeps becoming more congested?
Some government officials believe the answer is to subcontract out the cost of housing inmates to privatized prisons, and in all reality, a great portion of our current system is based on for-profit prisons, making the entire system more of a business than a public institution.
Whatever the sociological and humanistic reasons that lie behind crime and the influx of prisoners into the criminal justice system, there is unfortunately no end in sight to overcrowding and overly populated prisons and jails.
While temporary bandages like moving inmates and other means of temporary housing exist, this problem is one that will have to be considered further.