Legal News

Judge gavel on United states of America flag

The Truth About America's Criminal Justice System

American prisons are substandard, overpopulated and redundant. The United States currently has the highest incarceration rate in the world, imprisoning almost 2.2 million people. These numbers are shocking because the U.S. accounts for only 5 percent of the worlds population. Furthermore, American prisons have become so overpopulated that they have become dangerous hotbeds of disease, violence, and recidivism. They are also expensive to maintain and operate, with expenses exceeding $78 billion annually. As a result of these negative factors, the criminal justice system has become a dysfunctional industry that costs taxpayers billions of dollars each year and places an unbearable burden on state budgets. Whether you read about it in the news or see it in your community, theres no denying that Americas criminal justice system is broken. From local jails to state prisons, outdated and underfunded correctional facilities are forced to deal with overcrowded conditions and growing caseloads while simultaneously attempting to provide inmates with a constructive way of life behind bars.

The Problem with Americas Prisons

Man in prison

Even though the United States has one of the lowest rates of crime in the developed world, it also has one of the highest rates of incarceration. The U.S. has a higher percentage of its population behind bars than any other country in the world. More disturbing is this fact: The U.S. has 5% of the worlds population, but it also has 25% of the worlds prisoners. These statistics are a troubling sign that the current state of the criminal justice system is broken. These prisoners cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year and place an unbearable burden on state budgets. While recent waves of criminal justice reform have attempted to address the issues plaguing American prisonssuch as the mandatory minimum sentencing laws that spawned the War on Drugs and the lack of adequate mental health servicesthe negative factors that initially caused the system to break down have remained virtually unchanged.

How Bad Is the Overcrowding?

One of the most pressing issues facing the American criminal justice system is the issue of overcrowding. The system is currently operating at 128% of its capacity, which means that it is short of $80 billion in funds that are desperately needed to remedy this issue. The only way to alleviate this overcrowding is to reduce the number of prisoners behind bars. This can be done by releasing certain prisoners early, increasing the amount of time that others spend behind bars, or by building new facilities that are capable of housing more inmates. While some states have released a few prisoners early, and others have increased the amount of time that others spend behind bars, no state has been able to reduce the number of prisoners in its facilities through new construction. This is because prison construction in the United States has been put on hold since 2009 due to a lack of funds.

Why Does It Cost So Much to Operate Prisons?

Most people assume that it costs a lot to house prisoners. This is only partially true. It costs much more to house prisoners than it does to house people who are not incarcerated. The average annual cost of housing an inmate is $37,000. In comparison, it costs $10,000 to house a non-incarcerated individual. This is largely because prisons have strict regulations about hygiene and safety that standard living conditions are not required to achieve. In addition, prisons have a higher rate of mental illness and drug addiction than society as a whole. This requires special attention from medical facilities, where specialists are needed to treat these conditions. In addition to these factors, the cost of operating a prison is also affected by the number of prisoners who are on death row. This is because the government must hire attorneys to represent these individuals in court and provide them with proper execution facilities.

How Many People Are Currently Behind Bars?

The total number of prisoners in the United States has increased at an alarming rate in recent years. The number of prisoners has increased by 50% since the year 2002. This is largely due to the steady increase in drug-related arrests and the increase in the length of sentences issued since the start of the War on Drugs. The sheer number of prisoners has also been increased by the number of undocumented immigrants caught by state and federal authorities and deported to their home country. This is because these individuals have a high rate of returning to the United States due to their lack of proper documentation. Currently, the federal government has approximately 205,000 prisoners, while state and local governments house approximately 1,500,000 prisoners. Together, these numbers equal approximately 2,700,000 prisoners in the United States. While its true that these numbers are expected to decrease due to recent criminal justice reform efforts, its impossible to predict by how much.

What is Causing This Increase in Prisoner Numbers?

Over the past two decades, the prison population has been on the rise. This can be attributed to the War on Drugs policies that were enacted at the start of the 21st century. These policies, which called for a significant increase in the length of sentences and the number of individuals being charged with drug-related crimes, contributed to the surge in imprisonment rates. To make matters worse, the lack of funds available for the construction of new facilities prevented the government from creating a system that could adequately house the newly accused and convicted. The construction of a new facility has been put on hold since 2009 due to a lack of funds. This has forced the government to house more people in facilities that are already at capacity.

To learn more about criminal law in the US, read: The Types Of Criminal Law In The US You Must Know


If the United States is going to reduce its prison population, lawmakers first need to come to terms with the fact that the system is broken. Incarceration does not work for the majority of people who are forced to endure the experience. It does not work for the communities that are forced to deal with the consequences of large numbers of people being taken off the streets. It does not work for the government that spends millions of dollars to keep people locked up instead of investing in programs that could make our communities safer. This necessitates a re-examination of the underlying causes of the increase in prisoner numbers. Once these factors are identified, lawmakers can work to remedy them through a combination of policy changes and financial investment. The sooner lawmakers can come to grips with the issues plaguing the criminal justice system, the sooner the system can be fixed. As the country continues to grapple with issues of race, inequality, and social justice, it is incumbent upon policymakers to address the many flaws and biases within the system. The situation will only get worse if lawmakers fail to act.

Subscribe Your Email for Newsletter