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Can Prison Reform Solve the Overcrowding Issue?

Info: 1901 words (8 pages) Essay
Published: 30th Jul 2019 in Criminology

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Prison overcrowding  has been a wide-ranging topic in the United States for decades now. This issue has been the contributing factor to prison violence, safety endangerment, increase in psychological problems, poor health care, and lack of rehabilitation. Overpopulated prisons have been a common topic in the media and has come to be a controversial issue. Is Prison Reform the answer? Will it indeed improve the penal system that has been operating in injustice?  “Prison Reform is the attempt to improve conditions inside prisons, while establishing a more effective penal system or implement alternatives to incarceration” (Wikipedia) . I have chosen three sources to explore and engage with, to understand this topic more in depth. The first article was written by Andrea Caumont who works for Pew Research Center titled “ Chart Week: The Problem with Prison Overcrowding”. The second article is titled “Are California Prisons Punishing inmates based on race?” it comes from ProPublica and was written by Christie Thompson. The last article is titled “Underfunded, Overcrowded State Prisons Struggle with Reform” comes from USA News Today written by Gaby Galvin. In these articles I will review keys points and understand the correlation between the three sources.

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Social media editor, Andrea Caumont, has several publications. Caumont works at the Pew Research Center and explains her job on her LinkedIn profile as collaborating with the researchers, and writers to research compound information into content that is easy to absorb with a broad audience being the target. “ Chart of the week: The problem with prison overcrowding” is an article that was written by Caumont in August of 2013 and, published by Pew Research Center on their website. In this article Caumont discusses the problem with prison overcrowding world- wide. Caumont interprets the prison occupancy chart, taken from The Economist Magazine, published on August 1, 2013. Caumont focus starts with the hunger strike initiated by the California prison inmates, in response to “solitary confinements state policies at the state prison”(Caumont). Furthermore, she discusses the U.S Supreme court ruling, stating that overcrowding was an issue of cruel and unusual punishment. Caumont references many issues resulting from overpopulated prisons such as disease(TB), increased inmate misconduct,  and lack of meaningful work opportunities to name a few. She distinguishes the rise in prison population from 1978 to 2009 from 307,276 to 1.6 million. Caumont uses concrete factual information in the article. Logos is most prevalent through the article as she uses statistic-based findings. However, there are some points in the article where she uses pathos and ethos. In the article she paints a picture to the reader with the “ hunger strike” (Caumont),the prisoners initiated. The reader is able to feel some emotions from this. Ethos is exhibited when Caumont references the reader attention to the U.S Supreme court ruling. Throughout this article Caumont analyze other sources who provide precise information based on other studies.

           The second article, “ Are California Prison punishing inmates based on their race” was published in ProPublica in April of 2013, by Christie Thompson. Thompson has written several articles mainly on prison issues in the United states, not limited to immigration, and criminal justice topics. Her work has been published in several outlets such as The Atlantic, New York Times, NPR in addition to ProPublica. Thompson was the recipient of the George Polk award for Justice reporting in 2016. In this article Thompson does an analysis and breakdown of California prisons coding system that is used to separate ethnicities, and medical complications, that led to lawsuits. This “color-coding” system includes six different colors, these colors are placed at the top of the inmate cells as a way to know the ethnicity of the person occupying the cell(Thompson). State and Federal courts have ruled against the system a number of times. There has been reports of at least 5 jails in California using this same color- coding system. Prison personnel have made claims that this system helps to keep race- based violence to the minimum and prevent assaults/thefts. This claim was in response to a lawsuit, however legal advocates argue a different claim, stating this system sounds much like “ segregation days”(Thompson). Federal officials backed up these arguments conveying this “ color-system” was flawed, and inequitable way for inmates to be kept. “California overcrowding was contributed to race- based lockdowns”. Subsequently, the color-coding system was “ severe enough to constitute cruel and unusual punishment and required the state to cut its prison population”. Thompson provides another lawsuit claim, that had an analysis conducted limited physical exercise for inmates. In this lawsuit, an inmate complained of “muscle atrophy and muscle pain”, due to lack of exercise. Thompson discusses, state official’s denial that lawsuit claims were indeed race-based. With the countless number of lawsuits being brought forth, Thompson, interview many different people on this issue. There are several strong points made by Thompson. She gains her readers attention with thought- provoking evidence.

Thompson uses pathos, logos, and ethos in grabbing the reader’s attention. She uses logos  when she provides evidence and fact-based information like when she states” the analysis found that nearly half the 1445 security-based lockdowns between January 2010 and November 2012 affected specific racial or ethnic groups”. Thompson uses  pathos frequently throughout this article, to illustrate the suffering of inmates like when four inmates went to the hospital after a fight broke out. This article produces many credible outlets including resources that provide statements and evidence.

           The third article is “ Underfunded, Overcrowded State Prisons Struggle with Reform” by Gaby Galvin, who is a staff writer for US News & World Report. The article was published on July 26, 2017, on the US News & World Report website. Galvin begins this article with discussing the death of a correctional officer during a prison riot and puts focus primarily on the Delaware prison system. The main point she is making in the article is that prison overcrowding is  a burden not only for prisoners but it, also, stresses correctional officers, and ultimately makes the entire system fail when it comes to the program, care, treatment, and rights of prisoners. Galvin elaborates on the riot that took place at the prison, and shows the use of pathos, as she reconstructs the sequence of event that took place on the day the correctional officer was killed James T. Vaughn Correctional Center. She states that his death was a catalyst in getting the Delaware legislation to take a public stance on issues that inmates have been complaining about for some time like abuse and health concerns.  She examines the overcrowding prison population as well as the high turnover rate of corrections officers in the prison, correlating them with the cause of many of the issues that were occurring there. For example, she uses interviews to show that staff were sometimes burned out and inmates had programs and other rights taken because of overcrowding and understaffing issues were safety risks. She uses logos when she gives statistic-based information when she gives Bureau of Justice Statistics data. This article is very credible and informative. Rhetorical analysis shows that Galvin includes statistic-based information and conducts interviews with credible people.

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           In concluding the analysis conducted on my three sources I have found that all of the sources used a substantial number of rhetorical tools. All three of my sources were very credible and provided concrete information. The claims that are made in each of the three articles correlate with a point or two that the other had touched on. Caumont claims are based primarily on statistical information. Caumont details how federal prison population decreased before increasing three years later. Galvin has a similar idea, that agrees with Caumont, stating a slight decline in 2015 and predicts an increase due to the political leanings of the new Presidential administration. Moreover, Caumont discusses the forced release of some of the prisoners in California correctional facilities due to practices considered cruel and unusual punishment and Thompson cites this ruling as well. She states that the Supreme court made the ruling after California “color-coding” system targeted race-based lockdowns. Caumont, however, neglects to mention this detail, and gives a small amount of detail on this issue, as Thompson goes more in detail. Thompson gives the reader a better picture on how the California prison system treated their inmates. While all sources discussed prison overcrowding, I don’t feel a solution was ever achieved. Prison reform can, indeed, be the answer to prison overpopulation, but I think the key element is taking apart the system and looking at the foundation in which the system was built. First starting with the sentencing guidelines that incarcerate people for things such as child support.  Second, the bail system should not be a monetary device in all situations. For instance, a DUI offender with no harm to person or property should be released the next day or there should be a program to take them to. Third, jail officials and all judicial officials should work to rehabilitate instead of incarcerating and locking away everyone without clear, unbiased, and just guidelines. The justice system clearly needs much work before true prison reform can take place. Prison reform can work if we acknowledge that we have failed many people and move forward with new solutions as a true united nation. Let’s make Prison Reform great.!

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