Policing Social Control and Prison Essay

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Policing, Social Control, And Prison

Policing, Social Control and Prison

There are over two million people incarcerated in the United States today, this comes out to fifteen prisoners for every 100,000 persons (Pager, 2003, p. 937). This is a 600% increase since the 1970s and gives the country the highest internment rate on the planet. Imprisonment has been gone from a penalty reserved chiefly for the most atrocious offenders to one given for a much greater range of crimes and much greater proportion of the population. Recently developed crime policy has led to judges imposing harsher sentences for a wider variety of offenses packing our prisons with an ever growing number of individuals (Pager, 2003, p. 938).

Drug related violence is has become widespread not only in this country, but others as well. Crowded conditions have facilitated an increase of prison violence and helped to legitimize the use of force by correctional officers. These situations and conditions within prison walls have normalized actions that may be illegal, supporting the belief that excessive force can be an appropriate and understandable response to threatening or disrespectful behavior (Micucci & Gomme, 2005, p. 489).

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About 55% of the inmates in federal prison have been incarcerated for offenses related to drugs and around 21% in of inmates in state prisons nationwide have been convicted of drug related offenses (Drug War Chronicles, 2005, para. 1). Many feel this is due to the nation having too many laws. Politicians have framed the policy that has led to this set of circumstances as a "war," as in the "war on drugs." The war on drugs began in 1971 during the Nixon administration, turned 40 in 2011. So far little real progress has been realized. In fact a case can be made that things are worse now than they were in 1971.

TOPIC: Essay on Policing Social Control and Prison Assignment

To further complicate the matter the rise of the prison-industrial complex in this nation has given prison construction a growth industry. The rate of violent crime in the United States has fallen by about 20% since 1991; nevertheless the number of individuals in prison or jail has risen by 50% (Schlosser,1998, p. 1). Since 1980s spending on corrections has increased fivefold. There are more than 1,000 vendors in business that sell corrections supplies, and the industries growth rate is projected to be 5% to 10% annually (Schlosser,1998 p.3). There is a lot of the monetary momentum for more prisons.

Consequences of Incarceration

Of the two million individuals currently in prison 95% of the will eventually be released. Pager (2003, p. 938) notes that the recent policies developed to fight crime may be effective in getting criminals off the streets, however little provision has been made for when they get out. Currently there are over 12 million ex-felons in the United States, representing roughly 8% of the working-age population. Of those released, nearly two-thirds will be charged with new crimes and over 40% will return to prison within three years. Without a doubt this phenomenon is the result of a variety of factors. Interestingly, there is evidence that interaction with the justice system itself has adverse consequences for subsequent opportunities for ex-convicts, in particular incarceration is associated with limited future employment opportunities and earnings potential, which themselves are among the strongest predictors of recidivism.

One segment of the population that has been unduly impacted by the expansion of the prison population is blacks. In 2000 the rate of incarceration for young black men was almost 10%. This compares to a little over 1% for white men in the same age group. There is a 28% probability that a young black man today will find himself in jail or prison at some point in his life. This is a prospect that rises above 50% when the young black man is a high school dropout (Pager, 2003, 939).

There is a large and increasing population of black ex-offenders being released into society and seeking employment. The difficulties these men face in gaining employment and reestablishing themselves in the community are compounded by their minority status and a criminal record. These events portend the widening of current socio-economic disparities for this segment of the population.

Season Three - the Wire

The Wire is an American drama series created and primarily written by David Simon a former police reporter. The show aired on HBO over five seasons from June 2002 to March 2008. Each season focused on a different facet of the city of Baltimore, Maryland, beginning with the illegal drug trade, the seaport system, the city government and bureaucracy, the school system, and the print news media. Simon termed the show a postindustrial American tragedy claiming, "Whatever institution you as an individual commit to will somehow find a way to betray you on the Wire. Unless of course you're willing to play the game without regard effect on others or society as a whole, in which case you might be a judge, or the state police superintendent, or governor one day. or, for your loyalty, you might end up cannon fodder…no guarantees" (Potter & Marshall, 2009, 6-7).

Simon said season three "reflects on the nature of reform and reformers, and whether there is any possibility that political processes, long calcified, can mitigate against the forces currently arrayed against individuals" (Walker, 2003, p. 2). The third season is also an allegory that draws explicit parallels between the Iraq War and drug prohibition which in Simon's view has failed in its aims and has become a war against America's underclass.

One of the plot lines in season three explored the potential positive effects of the de facto legalization of illegal drugs within the limited boundaries of a few uninhabited city blocks known as Hamsterdam, a reference to the city in Holland. The supposition being that like Amsterdam, the benefits derived would be a reduction in street crime and an increase in out-reach of health and social services to at-risk individuals.

In an episode entitled Dead Soldiers (Season 3, Episode 29) Major Colvin and Lieutenant Mello look for areas in their district that are away from schools and residences to push drug activity. Colvin has refused to let his officers reclassify incidents and wants to provide accurate crime statistics. However, at a ComStat meeting Colvin is confronted with the fact that his is the only district whose felony rate has risen. Colvin responds that what they are doing is not working. He is then informed that he will lose his post if his figures do not improve. After the meeting, when other commanders say they will cheat stats if need be to improve their statistics, Colvin says he is thinking about legalizing drugs. In the show the experiment works and crime is reduced, however the experiment ends when the media, city politicians and superiors in the police department discover the arrangement.

Decriminalization of Drug Use

In his essay Commonsense Drug Policy (1998) Ethan Nadelmann makes a persuasive argument for the decriminalization of drug use. Nadelmann asserts the nation's drug policies have not only failed to resolve the issues surrounding drug abuse, but have made the situation worse. Given the present set of conditions it is difficult to disagree with this assessment.

The prevailing mindset among American policy makers during this period seems to be more interested in punishing drug related behavior as opposed to changing drug related behavior. Nadelmann (1998, p. 111) points out that while police officers, generals, politicians, and guardians of morals have been appointed drug czars, not a single doctor or public health figure has held the position. This is a telling illustration of how policy makers view this problem.

By calling this as a "war" on drugs politicians and policy makers have defined the problem with an adversarial metaphor framing their response. Wars are not normally led doctors or healthcare figures, the people who might be best suited to deal with the problem. Furthermore, many politicians have embraced this issue to demonstrate they are "tough on crime." And while these stances may make for good sound bites on the six o'clock news and garner votes, they do little to solve the problem.

Alcoholism and other addictions are labeled as a disease. People with these disorders typically have other factors, either physical or psychological, that contribute to their addictive and self-destructive behaviors. Nevertheless, incarceration seems to be the preferred method of treatment. Imagine if we put people in jail for contracting cancer? The current approach makes about as much sense.

This method of dealing with drug abuse has hardly been cost effective. Forty years have passed since President Nixon first declared a "war on drugs" in 1971. To date the effort has cost the United States taxpayers $1 trillion. True, drug use has fallen from its peak in 1979, when 54% of high school seniors reported using drugs at least once it the previous twelve months, however this number has held at around 38% since the mid 1980s and the rate of daily use of marijuana, cocaine and opiates has… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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