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Incarceration in the United States


Incarceration has been in use in the United States for a long period of time. However, in the last few decades, it has grown significantly by increasing almost four times since the beginning of 1970’s. United States of America is among the countries with the highest numbers of inmates with an estimated number of about 2,270,000 prisoners in the year 2010. That constitutes about 0.7% in percentage to the total population. Moreover, the estimated number of juveniles as per the year 2010 was about 70,000 with prospects of rising even further (US Department of Health and Human Sciences, 2002). Furthermore, the country has got the highest rate of incarceration in the world, i.e. something that is likely to keep the number of those imprisoned higher than in other countries. For instance, the rate was about 743 adults per 100,000 people.

When war on terror, drugs and other major felonies beefed up, it became clear that more and more people would be incarcerated. However, this are serious concerns that no government should overlook. In the recent years, the US has engaged in a worldwide war against terror targeting terroristic groups’ members whom they convict either legally or illegally and put into jails (Foucault, 1975). Again, as the number of drug dealers and gangs increased, the government has put on a strong fight against these people and gangs resulting in arrest and conviction of these people, and thus in an increase in incarceration. 


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Moreover, there have been other major contributors to the increase of prisoners in the US that include among others: increased population of noncitizens, and growing discontent with the death sentence. According to the records, about 6% of all convicts in the US are noncitizens. That is inclusive of whether they are federal prisoners, state prisoners or are just held in authorized local facilities (Foucault, 1975). On the other hand, as the push to have death sentence eliminated for good continues, more and more cases under consideration result in a life sentence or many years in prison as opposed to death sentence, and hence an increased number of prisoners. However, death sentence is still legal in the US (Paluch, 2004).

Other than crimes persecuted by the federal government that have a number of inmates lower than that from all the states combined, states have their own prisons where those convicted by the state are held. Different states have different rates of incarceration. For example, 2009 records revealed that those states with the lowest rates of incarcerations range from 150, 189, and 206 per 100,000 in Maine, Minnesota, and New Hampshire respectively, while those with the highest ranged from 881, 702, and 657 per 100,000 people in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma respectively (US Department of Health and Human Sciences, 2002). In fact, these are high rates and something needs to be done to lower the rates.

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In essence, there are different forms of incarcerations in the United States each with different impacts on the convicts, their families and the community they live in. Though none of these incarcerations can be claimed to be hundred percent good for the convicts’ psychology or relationship with their families, some can be said to be less severe as compared to others. Where a felony has been committed, the convict is to serve a jail term in either the federal or state prison. Those convicted of less serious crimes may receive a lenient term period and may be required to serve their punishment in a local or county jail (Conover, 2000). When they are not taken to jail, they may be put under house arrest. The severity of these incarcerations decreases in terms of the ordered federal or state imprisonment, county or local jail term and finally house arrest, with the last being the least severe.

Generally, any form of incarceration will have a negative effect on the family of the convict and most of all on children. In early childhood and in the age between two and six years, children have a higher ability to recall in future crimes committed by their parents, arrest of their parents or incarcerations that may have occurred. At this age, children spend hours with their parents or guardians and they learn more from them as their memory develops. They have skills to learn that are still far from good memories to warrant becoming traumatized in case when they are between the ages of 7 to 10 years (US Department of Health and Human Sciences, 2002). It is thus during these periods that parents should remain closer to their children. This effect as well as other will be expounded further in the essay.

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Effects and Experience Amounting from Incarceration

Incarceration is experienced by different people in different ways, i.e. people feel its severity in their own way. While it may be harsh for some, others may seem view it as acting leniently. Again, it will have different effects on different people. For example, the manner in which it unleashes its effects on a spouse may be different from that on the child, or whatever effects it may have on the convicts may not necessarily be similar to those on their families or the community. Some of these effects and experiences caused by incarceration are discussed below.

First, the essay will consider the effects on the prisoner. In this case, the subject under evaluation is psycho-social disparities experienced after the incarceration of the inmate. Basically, such first and most recognized disparity is loss of freedom, eroding relations with friends and family, personal wellbeing, and self-sufficiency (Rotter, 1998). Inmates from different backgrounds are faced by range of responses to their confinement. It proves difficult for these inmates to get over the loss of friends and family members with whom they previously enjoyed close contact. While the majority may finally adapt later, others feel that it is a struggle they have to go through on a daily basis to survive (Conover, 2000).

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 Prisoners are hard hit when they are thrown in or are released from prisons. It is mainly because of the change of the environment they have already adapted to. How soon they adapt to their new environment is based on personal characteristics and the setting of the prison they are held in. For instance, prisons are at times overcrowded, thus providing little space for privacy. Again, in prisons little is done by the inmates whether physically, mentally, or otherwise in order to keep them busy. Hence, they become entangled in own personal problems and engage little into positive feelings about themselves. Furthermore, their interactions with fellow inmates as well as with the prison staff trigger their psychological behavior showing individual effects on each of them.

Secondly, cancelation has mental effects on the inmates. Many inmates are mentally disturbed by the experience of prison activities that may have been contrary to their personal believes. Influence and mistreatment by other inmates’ possess huge mental control over some inmates (Rotter, 2005: 265-267.). Some things that affect them mentally may result from bullying, stonewalling, coercion, use of jail language, conning, snitching, and clinical scamming. Each of these cases is properly explained below in term show far they affect the mental capacity of different inmates.

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Bullying by other inmates will make an inmate feel hardened in life triggering never-caring behavior and feeling of hopelessness. Stonewalling makes inmates feel that they are totally rejected by the society, and thus they adopt prison life as their way of living. Coercion and use of prison language will engage the mind into using only those means that are considered to be right in prison rather than what is right in the society. On the other hand, conning, snitching and clinical scamming will almost certainly play a similar role as they make the mind develop a tendency to give inaccurate information that has been deliberately distorted by the inmates. It usually becomes a culture in prisons. Most people will adapt to prison culture by assuming the use of the inmate code.

In a more precise way, juveniles who are in fact children suffer from the mental damage as well. When children are put into a juvenile prison, they unfortunately begin losing their childhood (Rotter, 2005: 265-267.). Most children inmates lose parental care and guidance as well as proper relationship with siblings. It is something that will definitely affect them mentally.  Juveniles miss their parents, friends and siblings as well as other child activities and schooling. It is likely to make them lose hope and view life as unfair to them, thus triggering improper behavior in them.

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Furthermore, since the environment of the juvenile prison is full of children who are considered to be criminals, a lot of bullying infighting may occur, thus radicalizing these children to taking fights as the only fair way of the conflict resolution. Drugs and sexual abuses could easily lead to trauma. Since prisons do not mix two genders, sexually molested individuals may feel shy to ever tell what they went through in prison because it is considered to be immoral in the society. Moreover, drugs may be sneaked into the prison facilities and prisoners may use drugs in an attempt to relieve themselves of the mental and emotional suffering they may be experiencing (Lamb &Weinberger, 1998: 483-492.). Such absurd cultures in prisons contribute to the mental damage of inmates. If care is not taken, it may result in permanent damage as well as in the habit formed by the inmates.

Thirdly, concerning the physical aspect, effect and experiences by inmates in prisons are challenging. In prisons, many immoral and bad influences may lead to poor health and physical weakness. Prisoners experience sometimes weakening in the result of having their food taken forcefully from them by bullies. From this perspective, prison becomes a place that operates under the rule of the survival for the fittest. Those who are physically weak will always have the share of their food determined by how fairly they relate to the bullies.

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Physical attacks among the inmates worsen the situation for the physically weak for as they bear these attacks. Fighting among the inmates has become an order of the day and is viewed as a growing lifestyle for prisoners. In the majority of prisons, prisoners have aligned themselves with gangs that fight most of the time to control the prison facility from the inside. This kind of fights inflicts physical damage on the inmates. If not controlled, it may as well lead to the death of some prisoners in result of attacks by the rival gangs. In other cases, the prisoners’ bodies may adapt to this beating, so that they no longer feel much pain or are rather hardened to such attacks.

In some prisons, inmates are forced to engage in sexual activities with their fellow inmates who are in most cases of the same gender. Where such things happen and more so in male prisons, those inmates who become victims of this molestation not only suffer mental damage but physical damage as well. They feel demeaned as well as abused, but unfortunately they have nowhere to run for assistance to (Hans, 1977: 57). As may be proved by medics, forced sexual action leads to severe body damage and more precisely on the inside of the body. People who have previously suffered from such molestations should see a medical practitioner immediately to get an examination of the level of damage done.

Finally, we observe that most of the prisoners are parents and may be affected emotionally in case of incarceration. When parents are convicted, they take it as a big deal to leave their children behind with no clarity concerning who will take the responsibility of the parenthood. They are also driven by the fear that in the long-term, they may lose the parent-child relationship between them (Rotter, 1998). Therefore, it becomes an avenue for their emotional pain. A proper relationship between a parent and a child is built in the early childhood. If they are separated, chances are that their relationship will be highly damaged and this damage may be permanent. As noted above in the introduction, children ages between two and ten years are crucial because what happens during this period of their lives time is, in most cases, permanently recorded in their mind and their perception of their parents is not likely to change even in the future.

Moreover, prisoners feel emotionally distressed as they consider themselves to have failed in becoming good role models for their children. It may make them worried as they do not know whether their children will appreciate, accept, or forgive them when they are released from prison (Lamb &Weinberger, 1998: 483-492.). Another cause of disturbed emotions deals with the worry how their children will cope in a community that will probably ridicule them. Prisoners feel that they have made social life unbearable for their kids. It is natural that most parents feel that it is their responsibility to raise their children in a responsible manner, regardless of the crimes they are convicted of. When these responsibilities slide away from them, they are engaged into feelings of guilt and thus emotional hurt.

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Juveniles may as well be affected emotionally if they are faced with incarceration. A child’s mind is something that will be affected by what happens to him/her and the environment he/she lives in. When separated from families and friends, children are more likely to face emotional distress as compared to adults (Lamb &Weinberger, 1998: 483-492.). The pain of losing daily contact with their family members and friends may be unbearable, to an extent that they become homesick (Rotter, 1998). They are lonely all the time and therefore feel emotionally hurt. This feeling of loss and hopelessness in life leads them to believing that life will never favor them in the future. Thus they put no effort to change their behavior, but rather act in a more radicalized manner.


In summary, though incarceration may be viewed as a better sentence than death penalty, it should never be considered to be the major sentence, especially for lesser crimes. If care is not taken, incarceration may be counterproductive because conditions in prisons and experiences of the convicted radicalize the inmates, rather than make a prison pose like a correction centre. Incarceration has been used in the United States as a punishment to criminals rather than a way of correcting the convicts. Use of incarceration should benefit both the convicts and the society on the whole. Incarceration needs to be humane and to assist convicts in converting from the criminal behavior because of which they have been taken to prisons. On the other hand, when these convicts are released from prison, they should have a character that makes them acceptable in the society.

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Physical, emotional, psycho-social as well as mental experiences play a vital role in achieving the desired results from the incarceration of an individual. In case physical pains are eminent, prison authorities need to provide proper security to the inmates by keeping a closer eye on the bullies and by cracking down gangs operating among the inmates. In order to handle emotional and mental pains, inmates require counseling lessons as it will help them to open up to their mentors, thus easing their stress.

Furthermore, in order to tackle psycho-social, mental or emotional pains of the inmates, families as well as friends should be allowed to visit them. It will not only reduce stress engulfing the inmate, but will make them feel still loved and accepted by the community. They will thus aim at changing their behaviors not to be thrown back to prison after the completion of their jail term.

Moreover, special services like education and co-curricular activities need to be introduced by the authorities. Though these are convicts and such services may be supposed to be unnecessary costs for the tax payers, it is right that they are to be introduced as a means to engage the inmates. It will reduce the level of idleness and criminal activities in the facility. Other than becoming a member of a gang in prison, most convicts will engage into more productive activities. It would greatly contribute to improving the psycho-social, mental, emotional, as well as physical health. Furthermore, acquired knowledge is beneficial when inmates are released from prison as they may further continue their education or use it to start an income generating activity.

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From the research, we may note that there are different forms of incarceration with varying levels of severity. In the name of justice, those who commit less serious crimes or who have committed a crime for the first time should be handed a sentence with social obligations and/or with reporting to the home area administration office once in a fortnight. It would amount to home incarceration that regulates movements of the convicts allowing them to walk only around their home area. In case lesser punishment has occurred, a house arrest should be considered.

Finally, in order to reduce the number of inmates in prisons, a proper mechanism may be devised concerning the process of releasing some inmates who have shown improvements of their personal behavior, even though their jail term is not over yet. When inmates see that their counterparts who have improved their behavior are set free, they will be encouraged to change for the better as well since they can see a reward for it. It will make them hope for a brighter future, and thus it will help to improve their mental, psycho-social, emotional as well as physical health.



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