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The Increase of Mass Incarceration in the United States

The Increase of Mass Incarceration in the United States

One significant factor that has steered the upsurge in mass incarceration in America is the war on drugs. Key aspects of the war on drugs included increased law enforcement, whereby the campaign involved heightened efforts by law enforcement agencies to target drug trafficking organizations and individuals involved in the drug trade. Secondly, mandatory minimum sentences, meaning legislation was enacted to impose mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, leading to lengthy prison terms even for non-violent drug offenses (Fornili, 2018). Thirdly, some states implemented “three strikes” laws, which mandated life sentences for individuals found guilty of a third felony, often including non-violent drug offenses. Recently, there has been a budding recognition of the need for a more balanced and comprehensive approach to drug policy. Criminal justice reform initiatives, including the reevaluation of mandatory minimum sentences, have gained bipartisan support. Some states have also moved toward decriminalization or legalization of certain drugs, and there is an increasing focus on public health approaches to address substance abuse issues. The change from these approaches has been positive, seeing less incarceration of non-violent drug offenses.

Another factor that has led to increased mass incarceration in the US is the privatization of prisons. Private prisons, also known as for-profit prisons or correctional facilities, are operated by private companies rather than government entities. Government agencies contract these companies to manage and operate prisons or detention centers. Some notable factors of private prisons include profit incentives, whereby private prison companies are motivated by profit generated through contracts with government agencies based on the number of prisoners they house (Gotsch & Basti, 2018). This creates a financial incentive for these companies to ensure high occupancy rates, leading to concerns that they may lobby for policies that contribute to mass incarceration. Secondly, there is a lack of incentives for rehabilitation. Private prisons may prioritize cost-cutting measures to maximize profits, potentially leading to inadequate rehabilitation and educational programs for inmates. Critics contend that this focus on cost-effectiveness may contribute to a cycle of recidivism rather than effective reintegration into society.

Unfortunately, some of these policies of private prisons are still active today in some states. However, some states and jurisdictions have taken steps to ban or limit the use of private prisons. This is often motivated by concerns about the potential negative impacts of profit incentives on the criminal justice system. Additionally, there is criminal justice reform and a growing consensus on the need for criminal justice reform, including sentencing reform, diversion programs, and alternatives to incarceration. These efforts aim to reduce the overall prison population and address the root causes of criminal behavior.


Fornili, K. S. (2018). Racialized mass incarceration and the war on drugs: A critical race theory appraisal. Journal of Addictions Nursing29(1), 65-72.

Gotsch, K., & Basti, V. (2018). Capitalizing on mass incarceration US growth in private prisons.


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Identify 2 factors that lead to the increase of mass incarceration in the United States.

The Increase of Mass Incarceration in the United States

The Increase of Mass Incarceration in the United States

Discuss whether those factors are still active today. If policies have changed, how are they different? Is the change positive or negative?

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