A society must create certain laws that it’s citizens are forced to abide by in order for it to run smoothly. When an individual breaks these rules it is up to the government to decide how to handle the wrongdoing. Some argue that punishment is a necessity, whereas others think rehabilitation is the best way to make amends. As the criminal justice system currently exists in the United States, severe punishment, such as life in prison, is not only a possibility, but is the unfortunate reality faced by one in seven incarcerated people. The way the government handles criminal activity and whom they deem as criminals are controversial topics in American politics. Riti Nawroz of Affinity Magazine claims that it is essential to understand that our eurocentric justice system is by design discriminative towards minorities of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and class. One must take a deeper look into the history of our criminal justice system in order to understand how this discrimination is purposeful and systemic. Once that has been determined, it is necessary to work towards changing it so we can have a system that is fair and just. I argue here that there should be a focus on rehabilitation instead of incarceration and pose ways that you can help improve our system.
Putting people in cages for extended periods of time seems inhumane at its core. However, 1.8 million people were incarcerated in state and federal prisons and local jails in late 2020. Why do people believe that imprisonment is beneficial? The view “an eye for an eye” comes into play here. For some, justice is served only when one suffers because they caused another suffering. An alternative to causing more suffering is a measure that allows for a prevention of suffering occurring again. This then begs the question of whether it is the government’s job to help prevent more criminal activity. I argue it is so. When someone commits a crime the way to try and prevent them from continuing criminal activity is to identify and rectify the reasons they resorted to this activity in the first place. By merely isolating people from society, we are placing them in even more dire situations and creating possible disdain for the government instead of addressing the root cause of the behavior. If the government changed their approach and provided people with treatment, it may decrease the number of inmates who reoffend, known as recidivism. The Oxford Treatment Center suggests that people might access medical detox services, so they can achieve sobriety in a safe and structured way. They might participate in counseling sessions, so they can learn more about the triggers that spur drug use and coping skills that can allow people to move past their triggers. They might spend time in support group meetings, learning more from other people who have addictions. These sorts of treatment are meant to help people make good decisions for the betterment of themselves and society. It is later said that most people who have extended treatment for addiction stop abusing substances in time, they stop breaking the law, and they start to become fully integrated and helpful members of society. People can be treated for more than just addiction though, as there are many treatment options for instances of domestic violence, mental illness, anger management, etc. We are not each other’s enemies, we are equals and deserve to be treated as such.
Why do people claim that the United States criminal justice system is corrupt? As stated earlier in this article, it is becuase there is clear discrimination when determining who is deemed a criminal and how those are punished. While African Americans comprise 13% of the US population and 14% of monthly drug users, they are 37% of the people arrested for drug offenses. Additionally, African Americans are arrested for drug offenses at rates 2 to 11 times higher than the rate for whites. These statistics are great examples of how bias affects the legitimacy of our system. But what does this mean for me and you? What can you do about it? The first step is educating oneself about the issue at hand. By reading this article you are one step closer! However, this isn’t enough – I would also encourage you to do your own research from credible sources. Two books that have been highly recommended to me are Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. The second step is the sharing and spreading of important information regarding the injustice of our criminal justice system. One cannot address a problem if they are unaware of the problem in the first place. Also, the more people that know about the issue, the better. The third step is taking action to lobbying for reform – go to protests, write to congress/local representatives, sign petitions, donate, write articles, make your voice heard! There are an infinite number of ways that you can advocate for reform, these are just a few suggestions. One last suggestion I can leave you with is to go back to step two and share this article with at least one other person you know.