Prison Radio
Charles Karim Diggs

“Return of the Missing Citizens: Why So Many Citizens in Prison?”

American prisons, on any given day, have over 3 million or more women and men in jail. These prisons are local, county, statewide—also the federal government has prisons in every state across America. In some states you have four or five prisons, state prisons and federal prisons, In California, Florida, Texas, you have the largest prison populations. And some states have even stopped building more prisons and are trying to find ways to release more people from their prisons.

I think one of the deepest problems that we face is that the mandatory sentencing. That carries a heavy burden on the taxpayer, and that is one of the causes that maintains the large prison population.

The question should be asked: why is America imprisoning more people than any other country in the world? South Africa used to be the largest country with imprisoned citizens. Remind yourself South Africa had a system of apartheid. Maybe that’s the reason. And also America, one time, had a system of apartheid. Another question should be asked: should we keep people in prison the length of time that we presently do?

It is my opinion that we keep too many people in prison for too long. And as long as we’ve got these mandatory sentencing and not releasing people at the other end, you’re forced to build more and more prisons. Millions of families are disrupted and broken up because of this large prison population.

One of the things that drives prison population is our large unemployment. It produces stress in the family and the community and whenever a person or community is under extreme stress, they begin to function in ways that are illegal, they begin to do things that are self-destructive, substance abuse takes place.

So this long imprisonment being driven by economic insecurity that causes many of this nation’s mental health problems, and we’re labeling these problems criminal behavior. But in actuality, it’s not. Many of our neuroscientists are beginning to bear witness to that- the checklist, uh, statement that I just made.

They’re realizing that the frontal lobe is undeveloped in many of the men and women that are in prison. And many of your crimes are being committed by people who are under 25. And that is the period of time where you’re- you’re developing. You’re learning ways. You’re- you’re learning who you are. And you’re- and you’re beginning to mature between that age of 18 to 25, but it’s not fully developed even at 25, some scientists say.

The point is that all of this equals to a massive imprisoned population. Now, what has happened with these long sentences: the prisons are turning gray. Some of your state’s prisons are 15-20% over the age of 50, and that’s costing some more money to maintain these- the health of these prisoners. So the question should also bring us to the point where we should, as a society, we should try to find ways and means to reduce the prison population in order to heal the communities and the families, because many men and women in prison now, they’re in their fifties or sixties, they’re pretty mature, develop themselves.

And I would think that that would be a very, uh, it would be a large waste of capital to remain in prison when one has become mature and understands the system, understand themselves, and understand their commitment to society.

So I would like to end on that note that it matters the welfare, the care of people in prison and their return to society. And the societies should begin to question why are we keeping people in prison so long? And then they have to return again. So we want them to return with a welcome to society, taking them in and helping them to readjust. So I think this question should be put out there throughout the country. We should start questioning this- this massive imprisoned incarceration.

Thank you.

These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.