Broken Prison and Parole System


Well-Known Member
Sep 24, 2006
When doing research for another thread on PE I came across studies that showed the majority of felons end up back in prison after their release. Not a small majority either, over 68% in one study. The United States also has the most draconian imprisonment rate on the planet. By percentage of population the United States has the highest imprisonment rate of any country at 686 per 100,000 people. (Compare that to the worldwide average of 141 per 100,000) This tells me there’s something fundamentally wrong with our justice system, and the way that we reintroduce felons into society.

Do people agree that this is a problem? If so how would you fix it? If not, whats the benefit of keeping such a large percentage of the population in prison?

Some thoughts I had:
1) Shorter first offense sentences, much much longer sentences for repeat offenders. – One of the other major statistics that is “out there” is that a person who’s reoffended once is much more likely to offend again on subsequent releases than the average felon on his first release. It would seem to me that if you can’t learn your lesson that crime is bad in a 1 year prison sentence, the odds are you aren’t going learn your lesson in a 2+ year prison sentence. If thats true whats the point of say a 4 or 5 year prison term? Implementing “two strikes” or “three strikes” policies should save the population from people who are non-responsive to the prison system as a deterrent, while getting people who are rehabilitated out of the system and into creating productive lives.

2) More liberal use of the death penalty, possibly in crimes outside murder. – For example in crimes that unintentionally lead to death, or armed robbery, or rape. I have mixed feelings about the death penalty, but ultimately there comes a time when someone’s continued existence is a detriment to society. To the extent that such a situation can be reliably determined the death penalty should become an option. Making the death penalty an option only after a “second strike” situation might be an appealing option.

3) Improved support structures in the parole system. – Many parolees end up back in jail because they cannot hold down steady jobs, do not have family for a support system, or simply don’t have the skills and education to succeed outside of prison. While there’s a cost associated with providing a nationalized network of this support, I believe it could be designed to actually reduce government expenses by way of reduced overall recidivism rates leading to less jail time leading to a reduced need for prisons and all their associated costs.

My Sources:
I whole heartedly agree that this is a problem. I really don't have any answers on how to fix it. I thought your suggestions were right on the money.
I've also heard statistics that a lot of the felons find it mentally easier to be in the structured system of prison. It's warm, they get fed, and they have a society they feel a part of.
I've also heard statistics that a lot of the felons find it mentally easier to be in the structured system of prison. It's warm, they get fed, and they have a society they feel a part of.

That's what I thought of when I read the original post. Remember when Scared Straight was getting a lot of press for preventing crime? It seems to me at least one of those inmates eventually got out of prison and soon committed another crime and was back in. I don't have enough knowledge of the criminal justice system to determine if it's at fault or our society or a combination of both.
Perhaps the simplistic answer to that is because the criminal justice system, like every social system, has evolved such that we have adapted to it, it needs to be fundamentally dynamic to adjust to its context, which is not generally the case.