Prisoners’ Rights and Prison System Reform

An Agreement with Piper Kerman and her view of incarceration laws

Today, few Americans have challenged the claim that the criminal justice system is broken and requires reform. Individuals who have first-hand accounts or relevant information on experiences of prisoners have called for massive reforms in the prison system. This essay supports prisoners’ rights or prison system reform alongside Piper Kerman and her view of incarceration laws.

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Bernard B. Kerik has observed that the mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent offenders is causing too much harm (Kerik 1). These criminal justice laws are antiquated and no longer serve their purposes. Instead, they cause harms to society, Americans and cost taxpayers billions of dollars. There are more than 2.5 million Americans in prisons today. This is also the largest prison population globally and in history. Kerik observes that nearly “70 percent of these inmates are in for drug related offences and most of them are uneducated and illiterate” (Kerik 1). Piper Kerman claims that America has invested heavily in incarceration in a relatively short time to handle a single generation of offenders. In the year 1980, the US prison population was a half a million. The figure reflects a massive increase compared to the current number. From this figure, the fastest growth rate was observed in women. Piper claims that female incarceration has risen by 800 percent in the US.

From Piper’s point of view, wrongful incarceration has led to this significant rise in the number of prisoners in the US. For instance, she claims that there are many low-level, non-violent offenders, especially for drug offenses who should not be put into prison in the first place. This segment of offenders mainly consists of women. Piper notes that it has reached a level where Americans must now evaluate the criminal justice system and note whether it offers the preferred alternatives to society.

According to Piper, American crime rates have continued to drop significantly in the last years and they continue to do so. The increasing number of prisoners, however, does not reflect the actual fall in crimes. On this note, Kerik observes that the US leads the world with the highest rates of incarceration. In addition, the federal, state and local governments are “spending almost $80 billion per year on jails and prisons” (Kerik 1). This implies that if America continues with the antiquated criminal laws, then these figures and rates will rise dramatically in the next few years. In short, they will be overwhelming and unsustainable.

Prison system reforms do not support crime or criminals. To be clear, there are individuals who deserve to be “in prisons, stay for long time and even die there because they present serious danger to society” (Kerik 1).

However, when the criminal justice system turns to small-time, non-violent offenders and defines them as criminals, then the society fails to give them justice when they receive several years prison terms. To this group of offenders, jail term sentence becomes a life sentence because society will forever brand them as felons. In turn, this branding will hinder them from getting steady jobs and drive them back to a life of crime. Kerik asserts that some states prohibit such individuals from getting jobs from local governments or even doing simple jobs. This is wrong for former convicts.

For many years, state politicians have relied on mandatory sentencing laws to fight crimes and show their tough stance of criminals. Nevertheless, sentencing low-level, non-violent offenders in prison for several years may not achieve its goal and therefore reflects the failed criminal justice system that requires urgent reforms. In many cases, the Courts have urged released offenders to get jobs and stay away from criminal activities. The laws, however, do not allow such individuals to secure any meaningful jobs.

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In this case, one may argue that the criminal justice system has sent many low-level, non-violent offenders to prison, denied them a chance to reform and contribute to society. The prison system reform provides an opportunity to do the right thing by reforming the broken system. This process, however, requires all leaders to participate in the reform agenda. In other words, politicians and other leaders should not take sides on prison system reform demands.

For individuals such as Piper Kerman and other activists who consider prison system reforms to be a major civil rights issue, there are clear indications that political leaders from across the divide will no longer ignore the issue. It is imperative to note that leaders and society have recognized negative impacts of the mandatory minimum sentencing laws on low-level offenders, non-violent criminals in addition to racial bias that has continued to undermine the entire criminal justice system and its legitimacy (Silard 1).

The Congress, President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and other Senators have recognized the need to reform the prison system and other failed policies. If these leaders with diverse opinions on various issues have agreed on the prison system reform, then it surely requires solutions to fix its wrongful acts. The major obstacle has been changing the practice of sentencing “low-level, non-violent offenders and the mandatory minimum sentencing laws” (Kerik 1). If leaders can change these laws, then many offenders will find new roles and meaning in their lives. In the past, it has been easier to reject any calls for reforms. However, this may change as many leaders and states have embarked on calls for criminal justice system reforms. For instance, states such as California, New York and others have started to shift away from the “incarceration only” model to new alternatives (Budnick 1).

These states want to adopt “the evidence-based programs and services that have proved to actually reduce crime and racial injustice in the system, while also saving precious taxpayer dollars” (Silard 1). For instance, Silard notes that certain programs focusing on education and jobs provided under “San Francisco’s Back on Track program and New York’s Bard Prison Initiative have dramatically reduced re-offense rates to less than 10 percent” (Silard 1). Such programs have clearly created new solutions rather than incarceration at relatively lower costs.

States should start prison system reforms by reviewing their penal codes, which treat low-level, non-violent drug crimes as felonies. This implies that individuals face long-term jail terms and lifelong effects because of such laws. On this note, states should focus on treatment rather than incarceration to fight drug addiction. They should treat such crimes as misdemeanor and address long-term, negative consequences of imprisonment, as well as save costs.


Overall, Americans must continue to seek for reforms on outdated, ineffective laws that have resulted in widespread negative consequences for too many people for too long. This would result in effective reforms in the prison system and provide prisoners’ rights.

Works Cited

Budnick, Scott. “Something Extraordinary Is Happening at Ironwood State Prison.The Huffington Post. 2014. Web.

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Kerik, Bernard B. “A Time for Criminal Justice Reform.The Huffington Post. 2014. Web.

Silard, Timothy P. “Justice Reform, At Long Last.The Huffington Post. 2014. Web.

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1. StudyCorgi. "Prisoners’ Rights and Prison System Reform." May 6, 2020.


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