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Over the past several decades, the United States of America has experienced an accelerating rate of incarceration with over 2.3 million people in jail. The country has built the largest prison population in the entire world with the second-highest prison population per capita (Lopez). This high rate of imprisonment is a recent phenomenon. And for much of the last century America locked up criminals at a moderate and stable rate (Western). However, starting in the 1970s, a period of rising crime, social unrest, drug wars and major transformations in race relations, the U.S. was forced to tighten their laws, leading to the increase of convicted people which heavily affects today’s prison society (Surico). The past rising incarceration rates have adversely influenced intercity communities, families and especially youngchildren. In addition, high imprisonment rates have not only produced negative social effects, but also cultural ones such as the creation of large gangs that commonly believe in harmful traditions and the overcrowding of prisons, leading to a decrease in the effectiveness of the reintegration into society ofa convicted person.Residents, especially children, of communities with high incarceration rates endure lower living, safety and health standards (Clear). David Murphey and P. Mae Cooper, two researchers at Child Trends, a non-profit research center that studies the development of children, stated that more than five million kids, or one in 14 U.S. children have at one time or another experienced parental incarceration (Murphey) (Cooper). Moreover, this shockingly high statistic leads to further social problems, experienced by the children. In February 2016, Hedwig Lee, an associate professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis, who has researched the impact of incarcerated parents, released a report evaluating the consequences that children experience during this period. Most children are not able to fully process the ordeal of losing a parent due to jail, creating a stressful environment for young teenagers. The stress is reflected in adverse behaviours, negative school performances or use of drugs, creating a circle of negativity throughout the family (Lee). Communities with high incarceration rates have several negative effects, which do not help anyone in the long run. As explained by Michelle Alexander, a professor of law at the Ohio State University and the author of “The New Jim Crow”, such communities do not positively contribute to overall American society. Inmates do not add to the tax base, they do not develop solutions to the problems faced by the country and are less likely to make positive changes in the lives of others or themselves (Von Hoffman). Moreover, these high rates lead to children attending schools with zero-tolerance policies, resulting in polices officer patrolling the halls and first arrests for students (Wong). As discussed by Murphey, Cooper and Alexander, both parental incarceration and communities with high imprisonment rates cause a large amount of stress for the surrounding environments and in both situations, the fullest potential of success is rarely achieved.One of the most prominent issues throughout the U.S. prison system are gangs that attempt to control and produce fear throughout jails. Through the establishment of gangs, several traditions and habits, that are either unique or different, have been created in order to separate the groups from each other. Sacha Darke, a lecturer in criminology at the University of Westminster and co-director of the Research Centre for Equality and Criminal Justice explains the way gangs interact with each other (Skarbek). Most groups use a variety of hand signs, alphabet codes, tattoos and different types of terminology to communicate with each other. However, there are also ordinary traditions that most prison gangs follow. For example, respect and honesty among gang members are crucial qualities. In order for newly arrived prisoners to earn respect, many must complete dangerous rituals that prove their capability to join the gang. Depending on the group, initiation may also involve swearing an oath of allegiance, getting a tattoo or a donation of resources. Other more common traditions include not snitching, or stealing, paying debts and not lying (Wood). If they follow the code, the inmates are often safe from any victimization or harassment. They will also enjoy a higher social status and the support of peers. The overreaction of American politicians during the war on drugs played a significant role in prison overcrowding. Starting in the 1970’s, crime in the U.S. was unusually high and the country experienced a crack cocaine epidemic. The streets filled with violent acts and deadly gang activities caused Americans to demand a change. Politicians reacted with mass incarceration and other tough-on-crime policies (Caroll). Based on this reaction, the U.S. is currently facing the challenge of overcrowded prisons. The state of overcrowded prisons can be toxic for both prisoners and guards, as a published research report by the U.S Government Accountability Office (GAO) shows. GAO, an independent agency that works for the American Congress as well as researching the effects of overcrowded prisons, found that a cramped environment in prison contributes to the already distressing lifestyle an inmate faces on a daily basis. For instance, even though prisons are a type of punishment inmates’ social skills should not be diminished, something overcrowded prisons ironically do. With very limited trust in other inmates, adopting a defensive and guarded attitude is a common strategy throughout prisons (Gilna). Inmates rarely feel comfortable enough to openly connect with strangers, causing withdrawal, which by nature decreases the quality of social interactions (Mencimer). Similarly, conversations including personal stories are really topics that are spoken about, as the crowded settings tense atmosphere prevents certainty among prisoners. Furthermore, David Maurer, director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues for the GAO, noted, “If you start cramming more and more people into a confined space, you’re going to create more tensions and problems” (Maurer) (Gilna). With too many prisoners around one another, an individual inmate experiences a lack of resources such as washroom availability, library books, television lounge seating and recreational seating (Caumont). Based upon the unavailability, the prisoners often feel frustration and an increasing amount of stress as no inmate wants to be denied a basic resource. Competition and conflict over limited resources often lead to aggression and outbreaks of violence, another issue that the American government is trying to reduce. The political mistakes made in the past have caused mass incarceration to create large gangs as argued by Darke, but also produced overcrowded prisons, which generate many more internal issues as explained by the GAO report and Maurer.Ultimately, imprisonment has affected families and communities in disturbing ways. Parental incarceration has forced children to adapt to entirely new life situations, often creating stressful environments for children all ages. Prisons allowing more frequent bonding sessions between parents and children is one solution that would possible reduce the traumatic experience for both parties (Sanders). In addition, communities with high incarceration rates suffer socially and eventually become extremely underdeveloped economically. Addressing communities, governments should provide residents with more educational advice, allowing people to reconsider their actions before committing a crime (Hawkins). Furthermore, within prisons mass incarceration has formed large gangs with an unique or traditional gang culture. Finally, overcrowded prisons prevent proper rehabilitation as prisoners can develop antisocial behaviours during the time in jail. To solve any gang traditions and dangerous recruitment policies or overcrowded prison situations, jails should be broken up into smaller institutions. This would allow a clearer overview for guards but also for the American government. Overall, parental incarceration and communities with high incarceration rates have negatively affected their surroundings, while mass incarceration has created large gangs and an extremely cramped environment in many U.S prisons.

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