Student News

The United States’ solution to crime seems simple: locking offenders up in prison cells. It is the most efficient way to keep criminals off the streets; it removes them from society quickly so they can’t do any more harm. However, what happens once these people eventually serve their sentences and get released? In most cases, many of them will commit more crimes and end up right where they just were: prison.

It’s a never-ending cycle of the same people committing crime and going back to prison. The U.S. prison population is growing along with the increasing incarceration rate, as more and more people are entering the system. It’s costly to keep people locked up and to maintain prison facilities, especially since the same people are coming back in once they get out. It is ineffective and hinders proper crime control in the long run. This is why we need to reform our criminal justice system, starting with more rehabilitation and education programs.

There are many reasons why we need to keep criminals in prison: to keep them from being menaces to society and to remove them from our streets. Prisons are dangerous places. Often controlled by gangs and manned by few guards, inmates there need to develop coping mechanisms and resort to violence to survive in the prison pecking order. There is also solitary confinement and isolation of prisoners. Any person subject to this kind of environment for years at a time would be scarred for life.

For most nonviolent offenders, they won’t spend the rest of their lives in cells; they will eventually leave prison after serving their sentences. When released after years of prison life, how can we expect them just to rejoin society and live normally? They don’t know how to. Many of them don’t have jobs, families or homes to go back to. And that’s why they will go right back to their old habits of stealing, doing drugs and other crimes.

We need to provide incarcerated people with opportunities so they will be able to build new lives for themselves once they get out of prison. The Delancey Street Foundation headquartered in San Francisco gives substance abusers and convicted criminals residential rehabilitation services, vocational training and learning opportunities. Criminals there can learn to cook at a restaurant, work at the moving company and even go to school. They also learn social and interpersonal skills there that will be crucial to them in the future. The Delancey Street Foundation is proof that we can help criminals change and build better lives for themselves. We need more organizations like this to help criminals across the country.

Some people might ask: Why should we reform the criminal justice system? Why should we give criminals these opportunities? Criminals deserve what their lives give them because they chose to commit crime. And my answer to them is this: We need criminal justice reform because it benefits all of us in society. If we can work together to ensure that fewer people commit crimes once they leave prison and building new lives for themselves through education, training and rehabilitation, then we can reduce crime in the United States as a whole. Funds used for keeping inmates in jail and maintaining incarceration facilities can be used for other things to benefit our society.

Shavonne Lin is a junior at San Mateo High School. Student News appears in the weekend edition. You can email Student News at

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