A new misnomer has tunneled into our vocabulary. What we once called the problem of crime has been renamed “The Incarceration Problem” by neo-reformers who seek reduce the prison population using early release, lighter sentences, or no sentence at all. Yet their nearsighted view focuses only on the effect, while failing to address the obvious cause: crime. Furthermore, the entire argument cannot withstand the test of reason, as it is built on three baseless assumptions: 1) convicts are unfairly incarcerated; 2) incarceration fails to make the public safer, and 3) incarceration should prioritize rehabilitation over justice.
In order for modern prison reformers to justify their push for lighter sentences or early release, they must believe that convicts do not deserve their sentences. Yet in America, a person is not imprisoned without reason. If a suspect pleads innocent, he receives a fair trial, and only receives a prison sentence according to the due process of the judicial system. If prison reform advocates deem this unfair, perhaps they have forgotten that the U.S. court system is one of the only institutions on earth that presumes a person innocent until proven guilty by a jury of his peers. The commitment to impartial treatment of the facts, and the due process of arriving at a verdict sets our system apart from other countries.
Secondly, some who represent incarceration as the problem assume that imprisoning convicts does not contribute to public safety. Some argue that incarcerated juveniles are more likely to become violent, while others insist that incarceration fails to deter future criminal acts. Following this assumption’s reasoning, criminals should roam free, unchecked by the law. Yet, failure to enforce the law only encourages crime and endangers the public even more. At the very least, a convict cannot further harm the public while behind bars.
Thirdly, neo-reformers assume that incarceration should focus on rehabilitation, not justice. Herein lies a problem that contradicts our nation’s core principles. By placing justice on the backburner, we violate one of the values that make America great. Of course we should motivate convicts to change their lifestyle, but we must not forget what put them in prison. Criminal acts not only violate victims; they offend our nation’s law and order and thereby merit punishment according to the due process of the court system. Turning prisons into nothing more than revolving door therapy centers will provide little deterrence towards crime, completely neglecting justice.
“The Incarceration Problem” phenomenon is gaining momentum. But before hopping on the bandwagon, we must evaluate the substance of its assumptions. Under close inspection, the foundation crumbles. It blames the cough for the pneumonia; it fails to recognize incarceration as a mere effect of the real cause, the problem of crime. Until neo-reformers can put forth some arguments based in fact, we must reject their assumptions as yet another emotional attempt to sway our thinking and undermine our nation’s core principles.
Shiloh Carozza is a Senior at Rockford High School and a published finalist of the Advance Newspaper Essay Contest. She is a member of the National Honor Society and has served as President of the Excelsior Club and on Student Council. She is an alumnus of the Cornerstone Journalism Institute and the Student Statesmanship Institute’s Legislative and Judicial tracks. She is concurrently enrolled at Ferris State University.