United States: Land of the Free?

By Scott Bowser

The Periscope (Carlisle, Pennsylvania)

The United States, the land of the free, is home to the world’s largest prison population of roughly 2.2 million, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice. This situation needs to change.

Although crime rates have declined across the nation, prison populations have skyrocketed.

For example, from 1980 to 2013, the amount of prisoners incarcerated in state prisons and jails has increased around 1000%.

While some are quick to judge this as a demonstration of the justice system punishing criminals, Sentencingproject.org has found, “Most of these people are not high-level actors in the drug trade, and most have no prior criminal record for a violent offense.”

America’s crackdown on drug offenses, called the War on Drugs, has cost about $1 trillion since its beginning in 1971, said Whitehouse.gov. That’s enough money to build more than 10,000 Beaver Stadiums.

However, there is growing hope for reform. The Obama administration announced earlier this month that 6,000 federal inmates, a majority of which being nonviolent drug offenders, will be pardoned.

But how did the prison population become so inflated?

In 1986, the Reagan administration launched a new initiative against drugs that resulted in ‘Minimal Sentencing’ laws.

Basically, someone who violates the drug laws, no matter how nonviolent, will serve a minimum sentence in prison for the offense. At the time, this idea was viewed as a brilliant weapon to deter drug crime. Unfortunately, it resulted in the prison population increasing drastically and did not combat the drug problem.

Today, millions of families are affected by these laws. This also means millions of high school students, including those at CHS, struggle with family members in prison for nonviolent offenses and may even become victims of these policies later on in life.

A person caught with as little as 5 grams of a particular drug may find themselves with a jail sentences longer or equal to convicted rapists.

It’s time to reevaluate the situation.

Photo Credit: The Periscope

About Grace Masback

Grace Masback, 17, aspires to give voice to the voiceless and holds the modest ambition of becoming the voice of Gen Z. Frustrated by the dearth of impactful platforms for teen journalists, she founded WANT, a news, sports, and entertainment website that aggregates the best in high school journalism from school newspapers and teen bloggers around the world (www.wantnewsforteens.com).

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