Structural institutionalization

America fails those who have been arrested and served time, and this needs to change.

by Connor Nikolic

I am a white male, and I have never been incarcerated. Based purely on this information, I have about a 34 percent chance of receiving a callback after a job interview, according to sociologist Devah Pager’s study on hiring patterns. That’s a 29 percent better chance than a black man with a criminal record.

When employers favor particular groups of applicants on racial or legal lines, the “other” is less likely to be hired and more likely to turn to alternate sources of income, like crime. And so the cycle continues.  

America has far more people behind bars than any other country in the world. This is due to a multitude of factors. Our prisons are beyond capacity, and they won’t be emptying out any time soon.

How can lawmakers solve this problem?

We should reduce sentences for non-violent crimes such as drug use and low-level felonies. We should also increase efforts to help felons and arrestees find gainful employment upon their release, thus decreasing the likelihood of repeated offenses. Finally, we should allow judges more power to sentence below the mandatory minimum sentence terms for unusual cases.

Statistics would lead one to believe that we live in the most criminal country in the world, where nearly 500,000 more people are behind bars than in any other country. The truth is Americans aren’t the most deviant people on earth. We simply have a legal system that locks up prisoners for long periods of time and fails to offer them adequate aid upon release, which encourages them to return to crime — instead of working toward meaningful, productive lives.