We Need Justice System Reform

My commonplace is that the system of mass incarceration in the United States needs to be stopped. Last year at my high school I took a sociology class. That class was my first peek into the criminal justice system, as mass incarceration was not an issue I had thought about much before. Although the class was focused on a variety of topics, we had an entire unit on the criminal justice system which I found fascinating. In this unit we read articles about the faults of the system, along with reading the book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevensen, and watching an informative documentary called “13th”. I learned about America’s problem with mass incarceration, with a large focus on racial disparity. The film, “13th”, was one of the most important documentaries I have ever witnessed. The documentary discussed how racially biased our justice system is, stating that although the 13th amendment abolished slavery, the U.S found a way to reconstruct it through the criminal justice system. The documentary went into detail on the increase of African American criminalization after the abolishment of slavery, stating that by profiting off the free labor of primarily African American prisoners the U.S economy was saved from a crippling blow that would have been dealt from the loss of free labor from slavery. The documentary also talked about the monetization of the justice system, shining a light on organizations like ALEC which profit heavily off of America’s system of mass incarceration. Last semester I took two classes on the criminal justice system. I learned that mass incarceration in the U.S. is highly due to the “tough on crime” rhetoric that began in the early 1970s. From 1973 to 2009 the state and federal prison populations grew from 200,000 to 1.5 million. Those mainly affected by these consequences are people who live in poor and minority communities, as they have always had the highest rates of incarceration, and already face social, economic, and public health disadvantages.

This commonplace has significantly changed my worldview. When I was young I used to believe that all prisoners were bad people. I now know that that is not always the case. This has taught me to question other things that I grew up believing were “facts”. I have learned the importance of educating myself, not just assuming that things are right because they are “common sense”. Due to this I have become a more informed individual, who values knowledge and facts over opinion.

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