Opinion: An overcrowded prison system costs taxpayers and fails to achieve its goal

After the gavel slams, the clinking of the handcuffs closing around a new prisoner’s wrists somehow sounds very final. 

These sounds mark the last few moments of a person’s life outside of a prison until their time is served.

The U.S. penal system sees prison as a punishment, but that punishment’s effectiveness is becoming null.

The hope of the penal system in this nation is that the experiences incurred in the prisons will have a lasting impact on the former inmate and deter them from activity that would result in their return to prison. However, the numbers tell a different story.

In an article for the Washington Post, Michelle Ye Hee Lee reported that the U.S. makes up around 5 percent of the overall world population. It would seem to follow that we incarcerate 5 percent of the prisoner population of the world, right? Wrong. According to the Washington Post article, this nation currently incarcerates around 25 percent of the world’s inmates.

Both sides of the isle agree that American prisons need reform, but still
nothing changes.

If nothing changes, then we dangle on a precipice that threatens to increase the number of prisoners that, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, already cost $80 billion a year to maintain. 

The American Psychological Association argues that the reason for so many people in prisons (around 2 million with another 4 or 5 million on parole) is the “tough on crime” attitude.

A tried and true method of prison reform needs to take effect, and Sweden might just have the answer.

In Sweden, the main goal of prisons is rehabilitation.

Nils Öberg, director-general of Sweden’s prison and probation service, told the Guardian in 2014 that their job is “not to punish. The punishment is the prison sentence; they have been deprived of their freedom. The punishment is that they are with us.”

Mic writer Zeeshan Aleem reported that the prison population of Sweden fell from 5,722 to 4,500 out of a total population of 9.5 million.

Sweden focuses its efforts on education and inmates are allowed and encouraged to partake in university level courses.

According to Kriminalvarden, occupational activities are mandatory, and the inmates are required to participate in at least six hours of occupational learning a day.

Wharton University of Pennsylvania reports that 75 percent of released inmates are back in prison within five years. This is opposed to Sweden’s 40 percent reoffending rate.

Is Sweden’s system perfect? Obviously not, or else they would have a zero percent reoffending rate. However, despite its shortcomings, the numbers do not lie, and Sweden’s numbers look far better than the numbers from the U.S.

Sweden’s idea of rehabilitation of the inmates holds water, and it solves at least one problem presented to past inmates.

Once inmates are released from prison, a lot of them don’t know how to do anything else other than a life of crime, and that’s what they return to. At least with some university level training, they might be able to get at least an entry level job once they return to society.

No matter the stance on prison reform, both sides agree that something needs to change, or else we are playing with a time bomb waiting to explode.

The prisoner numbers in the U.S. aren’t getting any smaller and neither are reoffending numbers. At this point, anything is worth a try. With the bill so high for the current prison system, a new plan could even save money.

In this day and age, we can’t afford to wait and neither can the inmates whose lives are in the lawmakers’ hands.

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