The negative, often lifelong effects of imprisonment on mental health are widely acknowledged, but little regard is often given to the families and communities impacted by mass incarceration. The United States has the largest incarcerated population on Earth; in 2019, there are 2.3 million people in state and federal prisons and county jails. Repeat offense rates are also high, a testament to the lack of proper rehabilitation resources and services being offered to the incarcerated.
Communities with the highest incarceration levels also have higher crime rates and poverty levels. Children grow up without parents, and single spouses and family members are left to pick up the financial gap in the incarcerated individual’s absence.
To improve community life, promote greater social wellness and family systems in affected communities, alternatives to mass incarceration must be considered and advocated for by the general people.
Altering Criminal Offense Sentences
While people should not live anywhere that is lawless, it would be more beneficial to change the average jail sentence associated with certain offenses. Non-violent crimes comprise a large part of the U.S. criminal justice system, and many people who are not a threat to society are wasting years behind bars when they could be learning how to change their behaviors and become productive members of society.
In the world’s best prisons, the incarcerated are not viewed as menaces but instead people in need of help. Extensive rehabilitation services enable people to address emotional trauma, change behavioral tendencies, build confidence and develop skills that will enable them to rejoin society and become productive, valued members of their communities.
The United States has many therapy programs integrated into its prison system, but they are not very effective or extensive enough to have a long-standing impact on the individual. As a result, repeat offenses are higher, and a lack of resources after a person has been released from prisons often leads them to commit another crime.
Acknowledging the Bigger Problem
As governments explore alternatives to mass incarceration, it’s vital to also consider the underlying cases and address them accordingly. Early intervention and proactive, preventative measures integrated into the most at-risk communities could keep families together, lower crime rates and lead to more inclusive societies.