The “war on crime” era of American history drastically changed how we deal with crime, and incarceration. The saying “lock em up and throw away the key” became the structure of our sentencing and imprisonment of criminals. This idea has not helped our country or anyone affected by these policies, on the contrary it has ruined millions of families, countless lives, it has done unnamable damage to our economy, and our society since its conception.
Putting every man and woman who breaks a law behind bars is not a healthy way to deal with crime. The war on drugs which is the campaign that brought about this throw away the key mentality and policy brought the “population of incarcerated citizens from 218,466 in 1974 to 1,508,636 in 2014, over a 600 percent increase while the population has only grown 51% in that same time” according to Lauren Carroll of politifact.com. Most of these people are poor, predominantly African American men who were found possessing small amounts of drugs. The disparity of race that is being imprisoned is astonishing, as illustrated by prisonpolicy.org. These are not violent criminals and by taking them out of the workforce and ripping them from their families to keep them in jail and make no effort to rehabilitate these men nothing is accomplishments except for a supremely effective waste of money for the government.
Today, victims of our broken judicial system feel unfairly treated and they are not helped in any way to try and keep them out of the courts in the future. Many alternatives to incarceration have been suggested, all of them costing the government much less and having much higher rates of real rehabilitation and reshaping of model citizens. Some of these options are; restorative justice, exile, fines, transformative justice, and drug courts. These alternative forms of punishment provide benefits economically on multiple fronts, avoid the human rights and public health issues a prison involves, improve the economy by keeping household earners out of prison and in the workforce, and benefit society by changing criminals into genuinely better citizens and keeping families together supported.
The current system of judicial punishment is broken and scarred by an era of history in America covered in fear and prejudice. The way it is now helps no one and it needs to change.