More people are in prison in America than anywhere else in the world. President Obama and politicians from both parties want to change that. Rajini Vaidyanathan looks at how the US prison population got to record levels.
Watch the video and answer the questions below.
1 Which country has the world’s largest prison population?
2 How much money does American spend on incarcerating people?
3 How much time have the 46 non-violent drug offenders whose sentences president Obama commuted served?
4 How much time had they been sentenced to serve?
5 When were tougher penalties for non-violent drug offenders introduced?
6 What race is the largest proportion of non-violent drug offenders?
7 What does ‘$31,000’ refer to?
America has the world’s largest prison population. More than half of those in federal prisons are serving time for non-violent drug offences. Many people think that’s too harsh a penalty, including President Obama.
Over the last few years a lot of people have become more aware of the inequities in the criminal justice system. The fact is that we spend over $80 billion a year incarcerating people, oftentimes who have only been engaged in non-violent drug offences.
The president commuted the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders who’ve served more than a decade, bringing the total to nearly 90 throughout his presidency.
These men and women were not hardened criminals, but the overwhelming majority had been sentenced to at least 20 years, so their punishment didn’t fit the crime.
What the president is doing he is sending a strong message to the American public that we need to rethink how we deal with drug offences.
This is the change of course for America’s war on drugs in the 1980’s, when tough penalties were introduced for non-violent drug offenders. This graph shows how the prison population rocketed after many states introduced three-strikes policies and mandatory minimum sentences, putting more people behind bars.
And race placed a big part. The largest proportion of non-violent drug offenders is black.
The war on drugs had a tremendous impact on African-American community, turning of the public’s eye to how those incarcerations have negatively impacted the community as a whole, not just the African-American community. It’s a big important step that the president has taken.
Another big reason people are pushing prison reform is money. It costs around $31,000 a year to house every inmate, and with Republicans and Democrats struggling to balance budgets, President Obama believes now it’s the time for reform.
But I believe at its heart America is a nation of second chances, and I believe these folks deserve their second chance.
2 $80 billion a year
3 (more than) a decade
4 (at least) 20 years
5 in the 1980's
6 black / African-American
7 money spent on each inmate every year