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Political Review: Crime and Punishment

Political Review: Crime and Punishment


Many aspects create a major stir in the USA justice system with particular reference to the high crimes, incarceration rates and the death row sentence. Reforms are underway to improve the current situation but there are a number of areas that require strict analysis for a better understanding of the system (Dubra, 2006). Therefore, a review of the articles such as, “Breaking Out of the Prison Cycle’, and the Aljazeera video, “Fault Lines — Politics of Death Row”, this research will help in identifying the extent of crimes in the US. Firstly, the research will look at crime and the high rate of incarceration and in addition, adopt lessons from the experiences. The lessons from each understanding will explain other issues concerning the states especially those that allow the death penalty and scrutinize whether institutional racism is portrayed in the American Justice system.

Review of “Breaking Out of the Prison Cycle’, Harvard Political Review

This article looks at four major factors that affect the American justice system in regard to prison sentencing and the aftermath (Silver, 2013). They include;

  • The Silent Alarm-The article talks of the alarming expenditure of up to $74 billion that is used to run prisons with particular reference to ten specific states that spend more on prisons that higher education

  • Marginalization upon release- The article talks of the problems that an ex-convict faces upon release among them the challenge of finding employment.

  • Mobility in chains-The article analyses how the probability of re-entry or a prison term in the family affects the entire stability of the family members such that the children become aggressive and largely undisciplined as the environment influences them

  • Breaking the Cycle-The article finally addresses the reforms that have taken place, the main ones being use of advocacy groups and non-profits to find ways of rehabilitation and the changes in policies.

Review ofAl Jazeera, Fault Lines ‘The Politics of Death Row’

USA execution of prisoners has raised a lot of uncertainty around the world and the “Fault Lines” presenter, Josh Rushing has advanced the research of the crime and punishment in relation to the politics behind them (Al Jazeera, 2010). The following are the key areas addressed in the documentary.

  • The Involvement of politics and the drives that encourage capital punishment in the US

  • The documentary travels to Oklahoma which has one of the largest death row prisoners and executes more prisoners per capita

  • The documentary shows how the decisions of judges and prosecutors to revisit crime scenes and carry out DNA testing has exonerated many death row inmates found innocent

  • The current position of capital punishment is USA-in reference to the drop in numbers of those who support the practice

Discussion: Crime and Punishment in USA today

US crime rate and the high rate of incarceration

According to the reviews above, it is clear that the US crime and punishment system has grown drastically for the past few years such that people are being jailed faster that the public can afford. This is in comparison to the 1980’s which had inmates as low as 24, 640 in number and the federal inmate population today that has risen up to 208, 000. The Bureau of prisons estimates its cost per taxpayers as closer to $ 30,620 a year for each prisoner hence are there is need for certain measures to counter these issues. It is recognizable that due to the magnitude of the situation, it attracted the attention of the president as President Barrack Obama became the first sitting president to ever visit a federal prison after his trip to the El Reno Federal Correctional institution.

The president and the government are seeking a reform for the federal prisons such that there could be a reduction on the number of incarcerated yet non-violent drug offenders who in most cases represent half the population in the prisons. “Breaking Out of the Prison Cycle” shows thatit is considerably high that those released might commit crimes for survival bringing them back to prison in less than three years (Silver, 2013). To reduce prison population and the safe time keep the crime low is not easy however, prison reforms have shown that there has been a great change as it has cut down the incarceration rates due to the drop in crimes.

The Existence of Death Penalty in Some States

The Aljazeera documentary shows that in practice, the death sentences in the USA are only permitted in cases of aggravated murders that have a certain magnitude that goes beyond a given sentence (Al Jazeera, 2010). However is not every single individual that passes away as it was established that in 2011, there were about 14000 homicides yet only 78 people were sentences to death. It is also most probable that upon appeal the number is significantly reduced or overturned hence the end result in 2011 were 43 (Lynch, 2009). This is a far less total compared to the number of death row or executed inmates average today.

The reason why some states still practice the death penalty amid worldwide contradictions is because of the limited power that lies within the U.S federal government to impose laws that govern all states. This means that the relationship between state policies and federal law is distinctive hence, the role of the courts in interpreting the constitution is limited as well. The death penalty is therefore a capital punishment that varies from state to state because of the emphasis of federalism and local autonomy between the United States. As seen in the Aljazeera news review, cities such as Oklahoma have a high death penalty and execution as well as the state of Texas.

Eighteen sates and the District of Columbia have no death penalty and Michigan was the first state to abolish it. This was followed by New York, New Jersey, Illinois, New Mexico, Connecticut and Maryland in the last few years. An additional eighteen have death penalties but rarely use them. This is inclusive of the federal government. This means that the likes of California and Pennsylvania have numerous people who live on death row. Most states in the south however capital punishments eventually result in death despite the number of years from sentencing to actual execution.

Institutional racism in the American justice system

The issue of constantly bringing up racial-based incidents to demonize the police or handcuff proactive activities that curb the rise in crime shows that the aspect of anticrime should be evaluated in USA. On the other hand, if investigations prove that certain malicious acts occurred contrary to provisions and any form of discrimination is in play, such cases should be re-evaluated. There are many cases however that clearly shows that institutional racism is a major factor in the American Justice system.

One of the cases of racial profiling is as seen in cases whereby while African Americans comprise 13% of the US population and 14% of monthly drug users they are 37% of the people arrested for drug offenses. On the other hand, the big issue with the police is that the traffic police stop blacks and Latinos at considerable times much higher than whites as observed in New York City (Di Tella & Dubra, 2008). However, the most aggrieving of all is the police brutality particularly against the black population which has lost a high number of people to police shoot-outs or death in prison cells among others. Currently, there are many efforts towards creating a safer environment for the immigrants and the people of color but certain evidence shows that the success rate is highly uncertain.

Lessons drawn from Experience

Due to the challenges facing USA criminal system today, there are several lessons drawn and reforms underway to reduce the impact of the prison system on the expenses. For starters there are organizations setting up drug courts for the non-violent offenders that are seeking reconciliation (Dubra, 2006). This means that instead of crowding the prisons any further, the government intends to reduce the, mandatory minimum sentences as these crimes are low-level. This has brought about a slight unity between democrats and republicans as some of the republicans advocate for the same.

In addition to this, judges are under lesser pressure to conform to strict statutory provisions as they have a leeway that allows them to give a lesser sentence to low level offenders. The documentary by Aljazeera has also shown how the decisions by judges and prosecutors to revisit crime scenes and carry out DNA testing have exonerated many death row inmates found innocent. Similarly, the judiciary system now allows schools into prisons to help them acquire diplomas such that when the prisoners are released, the find it less challenging to fit into the job market.

Barrack Obama has also been a contributing member of reducing population in prisons as the crime rate is low. Congress is also catching up such that there are proposals such as the Smarter Sentencing Act that reduces mandatory minimum sentences and the Corrections act that encourages programs that prevent crime repetition. To make lasting changes however, the president has to work alongside the members of the congress as the only way to destroy the opportunity would be embracing more executive standings that have led to the destruction of immigration policies among others. Today, the conservatives have come to appreciates that due to their policing, too many people are in prisons and the liberals ought to appreciate this front against crime that makes USA safer.


Overall, it is certain that the American Justice system has changed over a period of time and due this, the crime rates and the number of prisoners has gone down. Similarly, the death row sentence is slowly fading away which means that the lives of all people are gaining better protection and understanding worldwide. From the analysis, it is true there is a certain magnitude of crimes that warrant tougher punishments but having reconciliation program that help people is a better solution as portrayed in“Breaking Out of the Prison Cycle”. The Aljazeera documentary also shows the fears and pain of families to the prisoners that questions the viability of this sentence. The understanding of USA system and the roles of both the federal government and state policies has clearly been addressed in this case.


Al Jazeera, (2010). Fault Lines ‘The Politics of Death Row’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvTpZiB1sfc

Di Tella, R., & Dubra, J. (2008). Crime and punishment in the “American Dream”. Journal of Public Economics, 92(7), 1564-1584.

Dubra, J. (2006). Crime and Punishment in the» American Dream». NBER Working Paper Series, 12641.

Lynch, M. (2009). Big Prisons, Big Dreams Crime and the Failure; Crime and the Failure of the American Penal System

Rich, B. (2014). ‘Observations on the Nature and Extent of Injustice in the American Prison System’, The Journal of American bioethics

Silver, T. (2013). “Breaking Out of the Prison Cycle’, Harvard Political Review, May 2013;