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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Locking Away Hope and Money

The American prison system is a giant machine; it holds up to 2.2 million people and costs the nation about $60 billion a year. The United States has the largest incarceration rate in the world at about 715 per 100,000.Being the most advanced nation in the world this is a sad fact.

Stony Brook University faces a huge budget deficit and is facing cuts on a scale not seen before. Our university is also turning to PHEEIA and could potentially raise tuition by   a potentially stifling amount.

If the government could find more efficient and better ways of actually correcting prisoners as would be implied by a correctional facility, then some of that money could be used to alleviate state deficits and in turn help Stony Brook remain affordable.

It is hardly fair that public students should have to suffer and be punished for the crimes of others and the inability of our government to handle these criminals in a way that is cost effective and beneficial, because as of now our prison system is neither. The cost of keeping a person in jail for a year is thousands of dollars.

This system does not  reform people, there are few opportunities for education, jobs and improvement in a system that is so overcrowded and strapped for money. There must be a reason that our nation has such a high incarceration rate.

The high rate is partly due to intensely strict drug laws with many states charging young men with very long sentences for drug possession.

According to the Sentencing Project 1 in 4 of the people in jail are there for non-violent drug offenses. New York has the strictest drug laws in the nation, called the Rockefeller drug laws. They stipulate that selling two ounces or possessing four ounces of a drug is the same as second degree murder and punishable by up to 25 years in prison.

This amount of drugs is easy to come by especially if one has grown up poor their entire life without guidance and has gotten involved with the wrong type of people. While prisons are a necessity in any society the attitude towards throwing a person in jail is too lax in this nation.

Any person can agree on putting a murderer or rapist in jail but can we all agree on locking up an 18 year old for 25 years on his first drug offense? A better way to handle a case like this is give the person who is not a full time criminal a chance to see how they might change for the better through a mentorship program, not just locking them up for years at a time.

A lot of young men who go to prison meet career criminals and become hardened. When they leave the prison system violence and crime is all they know and they continue the trend.

The high rate of imprisonment in America does not come only from inefficient laws and systems; it also comes from a cycle of crime and punishment that moves through generations. When people go to prison their children grow up without parental figures and these children are often from poor inner city or rural areas.

These young children sometimes grow up and start to make mistakes as well, and as soon as they are caught for something like drug possession they are thrown into jail where they become even more criminalized, only to come out and continue the cycle for the next generation.

The atmosphere inside the prisons itself is completely unlike the one in the civilized world, with everything being reduced down to primal fights for power and status through violence and humiliation. After living for years in something like that a man becomes institutionalized and can no longer function in the real world without help.

Not only do former criminals not get help after they serve their time and legally have paid for their actions they are often denied housing assistance, public assistance, financial assistance for college and often even lose their right to vote.

As long as this kind of atmosphere and attitude exists about prison this cycle will continue.

If people are thrown into jail at the first sign of wrong behavior instead of being helped constructively our prisons will continue to swell and our pockets will get emptier. Leaving  less money for things like  public schools.

Not only does this system drain money, but entire communities get caught up in poverty and crime because of it. Many states are rethinking their penal systems not just when it comes to drugs but other minor offenses as well.

New York could use some of the same restructuring. It is time for some real reform in this system, a place where a real amount of new thought can be applied, money saved and people actually helped.

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