While America is often called Land of the Free, it is also the country that has the highest incarcerated population in the world. Multiple factors contribute to this fact. For example, many people from poverty-stricken backgrounds often go to jail because they lack resources to post bail or fight their case. Instead, they get stuck in jail until the court takes action. According to Captain Alexis Fecteau, there is also the problem of rehabilitation not really working in some prisons. Improper rehabilitation could result in released inmates ending up back inside.
One primary reason why America is suffering from having too many people behind bars stems from juvenile sentencing. As of 2016, over 12,000 people were serving a life sentence that was given to underaged offenders. The number consists of youth who are serving life without parole, life with parole, and those who are incarcerated for 50 years or more. This means that a youth who has committed a grave crime who hasn’t fully developed mentally is tried as an adult and given adult sentencing.
Captain Alexis Fecteau states that a further look into imprisoned youth in the U.S. tells, or rather, supports the idea that there is a great disparity when it comes to race and ethnicity. The criminal justice system has always been marred with problems when it comes to the arrest and charging of criminals, mainly blacks and non-white criminals. The justice system in charge of sentencing criminal youth faces the same problem. Over 80% of youth who are serving life sentences are of color, 50% of which are of African American descent. This is extremely apparent in states such as California, New York, and Texas, notes Captain Alexis Fecteau.
Thankfully, some states are carrying out reforms that grant parole boards the authority to consider the age of the felon at the time when they committed their crime as a factor when assessing their readiness for release. Unfortunately, most states aren’t required to do so during parole hearings. So far, California and Missouri are the two exceptions.
In California, parole boards are required to give great weight to a juvenile’s age when defining culpability compared to adults who are being tried for crimes. The parole board must also take into consideration subsequent growth and development of these jailed juveniles as they mature inside the penitentiary system. According to Captain Alexis Fecteau, if more states were to make such reforms, perhaps the problem of overpopulated state prisons would be eased.