The U.S. has the largest number of people in its prisons. Despite the fact that the U.S. population accounts for a mere 5% of the global population, it accounts for 25% of the global population of prisoners. This shows that the American criminal justice system is heavily reliant on incarceration. Therefore, it is pertinent to ask how American got here (Gottschalk, 2006).
Prior to the 18th century, the concept of imprisonment did not exist in Europe or American colonies. However, there were jails where criminal were held temporarily prior to their trial and punishment. Public shaming, flogging, execution, or exile was the major forms of punishment during this period punishment. The British banished criminals to American colonies as a means of punishment. Australia became the major destination of British convicts who were exiled after 1776. The American independence put in motion certain activities that shaped the prison system in the U.S. The history of the prison system may be divided into three major stages. These include the Jacksonian Era, the Civil War, and expansion in the late 20th century (Gottschalk, 2006).
During the Jacksonian Era, imprisonment and rehabilitative labor were the major penalties for crimes in almost all the states. This necessitated an increase in prison building efforts. The major problem during this stage was that the punishments were usually very harsh.
The American Civil War started at a period when there were new mechanisms implemented in the American penal practice. These include parole, probation, and life sentencing. This led to significant changes in the American prison system. One of the major problems during this period was that the prisons could not handle the number of prisoners. This necessitated the construction of more prisons (Lynch, 2010).
During the 1970s, there was a significant change in the imprisonment system both at the federal and state level. This resulted in an increase in the number of people incarcerated. The willingness to incarcerate offenders increased the costs of the running the criminal justice system on the taxpayer. Prisons cost the state and federal government hundreds of millions of dollars annually. The high cost of the contemporary prison system is one of the major problems that the criminal justice system faces (Lynch, 2010).
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