Should Alternatives be given to Non-Violent Offenders to slow down Prison Population?

imageby Camron Payne

As my friend and I walked into the gas station to get an afternoon snack, I noticed him acting slightly different. I grabbed a king size Snicker bar and rapidly walked to the cash register to check-out. I realized that my friend was not beside me. I looked over my shoulder to see him in between aisles kneeling down stuffing candy in his hooded sweatshirt. As I picked my eyes up from the ground, I saw a man standing behind him dressed in black boots, black pants, and a black collared shirt with a silver badge over the left side of his chest. He was a police officer. He tapped my friend on the shoulder and told him to empty out his pockets. The police officer hand cuffed my friend’s hands behind his back and walked him out of the store. I figured I would see him later that night, but the incident turned in to six months of fifteen minute phones calls and once a month visitations.

Prison population is at an all-time high. There are currently 2,380,000 people incarcerated in prison today. The majority of the inmates incarcerated are made up of non-violent offenders. An example of this problem for instance, is my friend being incarcerated for stealing from the gas station. Incarcerating non-violent inmates in over-populated prisons can be expensive, harmful and ineffective when it comes to the criminal justice system. I strongly insist that the only way to slow down prison population is to release non-violent offenders and send them to alternative programs for treatment rather than prison.

A case study has been done on non-violent offenders who were given treatment instead of being sent to prison. It has been proven that prisons who have decided to go with this strategy have saved money, and the prisoners have better health outcomes. According to researchers from the American Journal of Public Health, 42,000 prisoners were sent to different programs instead of prison, and doing so caused prisons to save over 97 million dollars. “According to a 2009 report California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, incarcerating a single offender costs California approximately $49,000 per year”(Krisberg par.4).

We need to understand that prison overcrowding is becoming a serious problem in the United States. Non-violent offenders are not a big enough threat to society to continue to keep locking them up for crimes that are considered misdemeanors. Professor Langan of political science at the University of Chicago states, “According to the past records, we would have to build 1000 beds per every six days if rates continue to rise” (Langan par.1). This is an impossible request, and the first solution should be to release non-violent offenders. “With more people and a higher percentage of the population locked up than any other country, the United States would seem more than ripe for cuts in both its incarceration rate and its prison spending”(Casella and Ridgeway par.2).

Another problem that comes with prison overcrowding is the violence that happens inside the prison. Mixing low-risk offenders with high-risk offenders could possibly cause them to lose their lives. Society believes sending people to prison will set their mind straight on the fact that they don’t ever want to go back. I argue this because in reality, people who go to prison tend to come out tougher than they were when they went in. By not giving them the idea of prison and offering alternatives programs from the beginning, this could be very instrumental in helping reduce prison population.

Tanayah Sam, the voice of a group called VOCAL states, “It’s fair to say if you do the crime you do the time, but how the time is spent will determine whether or not they will serve further time in prison” (Sam, 1). I argue that the severity of the crime should come in-to play. There is a major difference when it comes to murder rather than stealing something from a convenience store.

Furthermore, I believe that we as a society should release non-violent offenders. This will certainly do well in the United States. It will slowly help United States expenses to lower and life behind bars will not be as dangerous as it is now. Prison population is still on the rise and the strongest way to attack this problem is to release low-risk offenders and give them treatments so the criminal justice system never has to see them again.

Works Cited

Casella, Jean, and James Ridgeway. “No Budget Cuts for Federal Prisons.” Solitary Watch, 13 Apr. 2011. Web. 30 Nov. 2013.

Krisberg, Kim. “Study: Sending non-violent offenders to treatment instead of prison saves money.” The Pump Handle, 24 May 2013. Web. 1 Dec 2013

Langan, Patrick. “America’s Soaring Prison Population.” Bureau of Justice Statistics (2002): Vol. 251. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.

Sam, Tanayah. “If you do the crime you do the time.” Vocal Group, 10 September 2013. Web. 30 Nov 2013.


4 thoughts on “Should Alternatives be given to Non-Violent Offenders to slow down Prison Population?

  1. Nicely written article and very interesting introduction. With this said I am going to have disagree with your solution to prison overcrowding. In my opinion it is majorly flawed. Lets think for a minute what would happen if we would not imprison non-violent offenders. What punishment would they receive to make them understand what they did was wrong and to encourage them not to do it again? How would society function if non-violent offenders were not punished? For example if your friend at the beginning of your article was not punished for steeling, what would stop him from doing it again, and again, and again? How would this effect local gas stations (among other stores) such as the one you described in your article if they were always being robbed. This country was founded on the basis of freedom, liberty, and JUSTICE. So with taking this into consideration it seems that the only other logical solution to this problem is to build more prisons!

  2. Overall i felt that the paper was well written. But half a year for stealing from a gas station seems kind of far-fetched.

  3. This article was very well written and I was intrigued to read on; however, I have to disagree with your statement regarding prison overcrowding. I can see where you are coming from, six months in jail for attempting to steal candy seems a bit harsh, but I am curious to know if there was something else (like his behavior during his trial or while he was in prison) that impacted his sentence. What worries me is that if your friend thinks that it’s okay to steal something as little as candy, and didn’t get caught doing it, who knows if he would steal something more valuable the next time. I do not think that people with misdemeanors should just be “let out” of jail, however I think that they should separate prisoners based on their crimes.

  4. I agree with your article. I think prison crowding is a problem in the united states. I think we should have alternative programs for criminals with no violent crimes, because of the impact of the cost on taxpayers dollars for having to pay to house these criminals. Great article !!

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