Can we honestly say that prison time effectively rehabilitates criminals? How many criminals do you know who have gone to prison and have never gone back? The answer is more than likely zero, as criminals who are locked up usually spiral down a life filled with frequent prison stints and probationary hearings. Conditions in these prisons are generally close to subhuman and the amount of violence is largely senseless and inflated. At Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center, prisoners recently endured nearly a week of dangerously low temperatures without power or hot water. While this incident garnered national attention and outrage, there are countless other similar stories that will not have any spotlight. The United States is 5 percent of the world’s population yet holds 25 percent of all its prisoners. The United States also jails millions of men and women over the course of just one year, with crimes usually rooted in poverty, mental illness and addiction. Local jails are often overlooked in large discussions about the criminal justice system, but they play a vital role and have a huge impact. Staggering facts such as these and countless others show that a reform of the criminal justice system has been long overdue. Small steps have been taken to toward this act as recently as the end of last year.
The term “jail churn” refers to the constant movement of individuals in and out of jails as most people in jail have not been convicted nor sentenced of any crime. This process is called pre-trail detention and over 540,000 individuals are locked up over it. Many of these people are detained but cannot afford to pay the bail amount and this leads to extended stays that could potentially damage a life. Pretrial detention is responsible for all the net jail growth in the last 20 years. To end mass incarceration, however, exempting nonviolent offenses from jail time isn’t enough. People convicted of violent crimes make up more than half of the country’s state prison population. But the image of prisons overflowing with murderers and rapists is wrong. In many states, “violent felonies” include offenses like breaking into an empty house or snatching a purse or iPhone on the street. Reducing sentences for these offenses — and changing what counts as a violent felony to begin with — can lower this share of the prison population.