According to the United Nations (2006), the United States currently incarcerates a higher share of offenders than any other country in the world. The rate of incarceration in the United States is approximately 75 percent each year. The high rate of incarceration in the United States places enormous financial burden on the government (Schmitt, Warner and Gupta, 2010). Currently, many countries have recognized that incarceration does not bring about any positive results to the society because it causes even more harm to the offenders, their families and to the community in the long run. This means that if the United States used non-custodial measures to handle criminals instead of incarceration of non-violent crimes, the entire society will benefit a great deal. Additionally, the United States currently spends billions of dollars in incarcerations every year. Replacing incarceration with probation will enable the government to save billions of dollars that can be used in other activities which will bring about significant benefits to the entire society (United Nations, 2006).
There are numerous objectives of incarceration including keeping the perpetrators of crime in a secure place before they are declared either guilty or innocent by the court. Incarceration of offenders is done to punish the wrong doers after they are found guilty. Another objective of incarceration is to prevent offenders from committing more crimes when they are in prison. The prison therefore acts as a very good environment where convicts can be rehabilitated. During rehabilitation, the underlying factors that contributed to the crime are addressed thereby reducing the likelihood of repeating the crimes. Since prisons do little when it comes to reducing re-offending, it can be concluded that the objectives of incarceration are not effectively being met. According to Schmitt, Warner and Gupta (2010), prison rarely rehabilitate individuals and they increase the rates of re-offending. This poses additional threats to the society and to the lives of offenders in general. Additionally, the United States government continues to feel the burden of managing these prisons yet they have got no positive benefits to the society.
Majority of United States prisons incarcerate individuals with non-violent crimes that could easily be handled through non-custodial means. Majority of these offenders come from families with economical and social problems. These families are faced with a number of problems such as lack of proper housing, histories of mental illnesses and other psychological problems, poverty, domestic violence, and broken families (Justice Policy Institute, 2009). When the United States government uses prison as the only solution to both violent and non-violent crimes, it fails to address the issue of safety in the society in a sustainable manner. Additionally, the United States government worsens the cycle of damaged relationships, unemployment, impoverishment, social, and psychological problems. Overcrowded prisons, including people with non violent crimes, lead to many health problems such as the spread of infectious diseases like HIV and Tuberculosis. These diseases are a big burden to the health sector particularly if they spread among all prisoners (United Nations, 2006).
Suppose the United States used probation instead of incarceration for non-violent crimes, the entire society will benefit socially, psychologically, emotionally, and economically. According to Yekini and Salisu (2013), probation services and other forms of non-custodial sanctions can be used to rehabilitate criminals with non-violent crimes and to make them better people in the society than incarceration. The main purpose of probation is to offer the criminal an opportunity to initiate change at individual level without using any form of institutional confinement. Probation is considered one of the most effective non-custodial measures that are used by correctional authorities to treat both adult and juvenile offenders (Schmitt, Warner and Gupta, 2010).
Following successful probation, the offender will be able to reunite with family members and he or she will be less likely to reoffend. If fewer offenders are incarcerated in the United States, family relationships will be strengthened, which will help to improve the social and psychological health of family members and that of the entire society. Furthermore, offenders who will have been rehabilitated through probation will be able to educate other members of the society on the importance of avoiding crime. This will help improve public safety and enhance growth in the society. The society will also be able to benefit economically as majority of its members will engage in money generating activities. Consequently, the United States government will use its funds for financing projects in the society instead of using such funds to maintain overcrowded prisons. These projects will keep youths committed, eventually preventing them from engaging in criminal activities (Justice Policy Institute, 2009).
The money saved from fewer people being incarcerated in the United States can be used in various ways for the benefit of the entire society. As the United States struggle to survive in a harsh economic environment, many organizations are trying to cut their budgets by avoiding those activities that are not cost-effective. One of those systems in the United States which are not cost-effective includes the jail and prison systems. According to Schmitt, Warner and Gupta (2010), if the number of incarcerated individuals is reduced by half, both local and state governments will save 7.2 billion United States dollars and 7.6 billion United States dollars respectively (Justice Policy Institute, 2009).
The money that will have been saved by both state and local governments after reducing incarceration rates can be reinvested in other social institutions that are concerned with improvement of public safety in the long run. The most effective way of supporting the society and improving public safety is making investments in social institutions and communities. For example, the money can be spent in building academic institutions for children and youths in the society. Governments which spend their funds on education have lower rates of crime than those who do not (Justice Policy Institute, 2009).
In order to keep the society safe, the United States government should emulate other countries like Nigeria which has significantly reduced its prison population and used the money to improve community services that will promote social reintegration of offenders (Yekini and Salisu, 2013). In addition, the state and federal governments should use the money to provide employment services to the community. This way, members of the society will be able to get their own money and the crime rates will reduce. The money can also be used to build houses for families who are homeless to help create a safer and healthier community. Therefore, policy makers should come up with policies that will ensure that individuals with non-violent crimes are kept in probation instead of being incarcerated. This will help the government to save funds that will be used in financing community projects. These projects will prevent people from engaging in criminal activities, thereby promoting public safety (Justice Policy Institute, 2009).