Societal Impacts of Mass Incarceration and the influence of physical violence within prison

I have always been blessed with great neighbors. They were always quiet and friendly and never showed any violent or criminal tendencies. One afternoon, I was making lunch and when I looked out my window I saw what looked like a very military like police unit funnel out of a small bus and bust down my quiet neighbors’ doors. They were part of a meth dealing ring in my hometown. They never exerted violence on anyone and were nonviolent people, but now are being sent into a very, very violent environment, prison. Physical violence is very prevalent within the prison system. Why do we keep sending nonviolent criminals into these very violent environments? With the amount of violence within prisons and the amount of incarcerated men and women in the U.S., it leaves serious societal impacts. Some of the societal impacts are harmless and have somewhat turned into pop culture norms. While most of the other impacts are very detrimental to society.

One impact that many people don’t even realize is actually pretty harmless, a wardrobe impact. The trend of sagging pants started within the prison system because

inmates aren’t allowed to wear belts. This trend started around the eighties when the first victims of the drug war were being released and didn’t even think about wearing belts because they almost forgot that they even existed. This trend shows a more tangible and more visible change of the inmates before and after prison. This also shows how these changes can be spread outward to people who never stepped near a prison. “Copying prisoners can contribute to a prisoners’ mentality.” — Judge Greg Mathis. The physical violence within prisons mentally change a person to focus on survival, and these inmates usually turn to violence themselves. These inmates turn into generally violent people, and much like the fact that inmates continued to not wear belts after release, inmates also continue to be more violent after their release.

Nearly three-fourths of incarcerated people are nonviolent offenders and one in four inmates report being physically assaulted while in prison. We are sending nonviolent criminals into violent environments and it changes people. When these people are being set free they are not as nonviolent as they were before their incarceration and this becomes a huge part of our society. When the U.S. incarcerates this many people it starts to become a huge demographic within society and the bigger a demographic is the more influence it will have.

The drug war has started to impact my hometown in Nebraska. My hometown had a huge meth problem in the 1980s and 1990s. Not to mention the fact that you can smell weed almost anywhere there. Nebraska, much like most of the country, kept legislating and passing harsher punishments, and these people were being thrown into prison. As a child, my hometown did not have a drug problem because most of the drug abusers were imprisoned. It felt like the 1950s white picket fence community. By the time I started getting into middle school these prisoners’ sentences were ending and they were coming back. Along with the sight of seeing men’s underwear in public, the violence within my hometown started to increase. The police were having more trouble than they had in the 80s because they were generally nonviolent people before their incarceration and prison has turned them around. The local police had to partner with the III Corps Drug Task Force, III Corps is a U.S. army corps based out of Texas.

By the time I reached high school it did not seem like the same town that I remembered as a child, the police basically turned into a military unit. In high school, parties had to be held a half-hour out of town in a different county because no one wanted their house ransacked by III Corps agents, they would have rather dealt with state troopers. My hometown is a great personal example of how locking up nonviolent criminals without proper rehabilitation programs can influence the society.

An example of how bad some sentences can be is Weldon Angelos. Weldon Angelos lived in Utah and was 25 when convicted; he was busted for selling weed with a firearm and money laundering. Weldon Angelos was sentenced to 55 years in prison without parole. He was a young man and it was his first ever criminal offense, most people that receive a sentence that harsh are repeat offenders. Weldon will be 80 when released and he will be in a very violent environment away from his wife and children. Why do we have to worry about him being violent after release if he’s gonna be elderly and probably unfit? Yes, he might not be violent after his release because he will be of old age, but most kids look up to their parents. Most kids in this situation will see their parents in this environment and if their parent lives through it; they might start to think that their parent is violent and will start molding themselves to be like them. This might not be the case in every single family, but in a lot of them this is how it might turn out.

None of the politicians or government agencies are changing anything for the better. They just keep sending them back to prison for ten more years or so and when they are released nothing will have changed. It is a never ending cycle. We need reform that not only helps deter criminals, but also helps rehabilitate a person so they do not adhere to violent culture. The impacts of incarcerating drug users are far worse than the actual impacts of drug users. If we find other ways to treat these drug users, my hometown might still be the quaint little town I remembered as a kid.