Excessive Punishments for Nonviolent Crimes in America

One of the biggest threats to our democracy in the United States is one that is hardly ever talked about. It may not even be noticed by the public at large. This is the increasing number of people who are being jailed for crimes that are nonviolent. The number of people in prison in the US is now higher than ever.

Incarceration Figures Are Increasingly Out of Hand

You should be aware that the total number of people being held in prison for crimes that are essentially minor is getting well out of hand. As of 2021, 300,000 people are now serving time in state and federal prisons for drug offenses. This is a far cry from the mere 25,000 who were held on these offenses in the 1980s.

Nearly half of all people being held in Federal prison, a total of 45 percent, are there because of drug offenses. Between the years 1988 and 2012, the total amount of time that people spent in prison for drug-related offenses increased by a total of 153 percent. This is a trend that shows no signs of decreasing.

Is the “Three Strikes” Law a Good Idea?

Ever since the “tough on crime” stance taken by politicians in the 1990s, “three strikes and you’re out” has been the law of the land. What has been ignored is the fact that a third offense that entails something as minor as stealing a bicycle has sentenced some people to life in prison with no parole.

These “three-strike” laws have led directly to an increased burden on American taxpayers. The people that are now serving long years in prison for minor and nonviolent offenses need to be housed and fed. This leads to a major strain on the economy. Despite this, many lawmakers seem content to ignore the issue.

A Misdemeanor Can Become Permanent on Your Record

Did you know that, in certain states, a misdemeanor can last for years or even become a permanent part of your criminal record? This is in addition to the fact that many states now require inmates to serve at least 85 percent of their total sentence. This comes courtesy of a new so-called “truth in sentencing” law.

This excessive harshness in sentencing may satisfy some overly paranoid people. But it isn’t a long-term solution to the problem of reducing crime. Instead of taking proactive measures to deal with the issue, these laws simply ignore the problem by “locking them up and throwing away the key.”

What is needed is a new approach to sentencing people for crimes that are nonviolent. A new set of solutions can help people to become productive members of society without first having to pay such draconian penalties for essentially minor offenses. This is why we persist in our fieldwork and studies.