In the late seventies and eighties, the US
had a rising drug problem. Use of drugs was up across the board, with
every age group and ethnicity experiencing a rise in drug related offenses. Drug smuggling began to increase exponentially
thanks to a very lucrative drug market in the US, and this saw the rise of powerful
cartels, all vying with each other for a piece of the American pie. With the cartels came the rise of violent
crime, and US lawmakers believed that something had to be done. Thus the infamous war on drugs began, and
along with it mandatory minimums- automatic jail time for even minor drug offenders. These mandatory minimums gave out harsh sentences
for possession of drugs over certain limits. For instance, 28 grams of crack cocaine is
enough to earn you 5 years prison time, while 280 grams would net you 10 years- no appeal,
and automatic. 100 grams of heroin nets you 5 years, and
1,000 grams is a 10 year sentence. Just a single gram of PCP will get you 5,
while 10 grams is enough to put you in jail for 10 years. The punishments were harsh, but legislators
hoped that such stiff sentences and zero tolerance attitude would serve to dissuade individuals
from pursuing a life of drugs and crime. Sadly, drug addiction doesn’t work like
that, and in many impoverished neighborhoods with few, if any other options, mandatory
minimums did nothing to scare away would-be drug pushers and users alike. These mandatory minimums proved disastrous
for first-time drug offenders, as they pretty much ensured that instead of receiving the
counseling and re-education they needed, they would instead be stuck in jail with hardened
criminals for half a decade or more. Prisons quickly became known as crime school,
due to the flood of first-time offenders on mandatory minimum sentences getting taught
how to better smuggle, sell, or produce drugs by more hardened inmates serving longer sentences. In effect, American jails became a recruitment
college for drug dealers and manufacturers, graduating in five years with a master’s degree
in breaking the law. Measures that had been meant to deter crime,
had instead ensured that criminals who were punished under these new mandatory minimum
laws, would leave prison behind as better, wiser criminals. Mandatory minimums however have also unfairly
targeted minorities. For example, while 28 grams of crack cocaine
is enough to get you 5 years of prison time, it takes a whopping 500 grams of powdered
cocaine to get the same sentence. The overt racism isn’t obvious at first, until
you consider that crack cocaine is typically pushed in lower income neighborhoods, which
are disproportionately inhabited by minorities, while more affluent white people were sold
powdered cocaine. To be fair, crack cocaine is generally believed
to be more addictive than powdered cocaine, and the legislators who drew up mandatory
minimum sentences were facing an environment where there was, and still is, much more crack
cocaine on the street than powdered cocaine. So in a way it makes sense to target crack
cocaine more vigorously than powdered cocaine as there will be more users, and the hope
was that if enough users and sellers were caught with the low amount needed for mandatory
minimum sentencing, then it would act to dissuade others from using the drug. This belief was meant to keep the crack epidemic
from growing through fear of punishment, but as we said earlier, drug addiction sadly doesn’t
work like that. Yet the fact that one drug was overwhelmingly
used by minorities over the other has resulted in a huge disparity in the American prison
population. Incarceration rates show that there are 2,724
black prisoners per 100,000 people versus 465 white prisoners, with latinos sitting
somewhere in the middle at 1,091. And even when arrested for the same crime,
black prisoners receive on average a 13.1% longer sentences than white prisoners. Longer sentences can’t be blamed on the
same misplaced intentions behind mandatory minimums, and sadly blacks receiving longer
sentences on average than white comes down to an inherent racial bias within the justice
system. Mandatory minimum saw a flood of minority
offenders hit the court system, and many judges developed a bias towards communities they
saw as inherently more criminal. This attitude however completely ignored the
many factors behind increased criminality amongst minority communities, chief of which
was a lack of economic and educational opportunities which led many to resort to crime. Today people are questioning the effectiveness
of mandatory minimums, and calling for an end to the practice. With the largest prison population in the
world, at around 1.5 million prisoners, the US leads the way in incarceration. Another 5 million Americans are also either
on parole or on probation and under state supervision. While the US is a relatively large nation
and thus it’s expected it would have more prisoners than a smaller nation, the US leads
the way even in rate of incarceration. So what would happen if suddenly amnesty was
granted to every American prisoner? How would that affect society if every single
prisoner was released at the same time? Well first let’s look at what people are in
prison for. First is violent crimes, in state prisons
there are 182,000 prisoners in jail for murder, and in federal prison we have just 2,700 for
the same crime. That’s almost 185,000 murderers suddenly let
loose all across America, certainly not a pretty picture. Next we have 175,000 prisoners total behind
bars for robbery, and 165,000 for rape or sexual assault. Public-order crimes, things such as prostitution,
driving under the influence, pedophilia and other crimes that go against the social norm,
number at about 178,000, but those offenders vary in severity and danger. Arguably someone arrested for prostitution
poses a much less serious threat to the safety of a community than a drunk driver. Drug offenses such as trafficking and manufacturing
comes in next, with around 228,000 people behind bars for peddling drugs- that would
be a great deal of drug dealers and manufacturers suddenly let loose- although this figure also
includes people whose crimes were conducted in relation to drugs. Aggravated or simple assault comes next, with
about 135,000 prisoners- these are the lads who like a good fight, and get locked up for
it. Although typically these assaults end in serious
injury or a threat to life. Burglary is next with 121,000 prisoners, but
this is different from larceny, with 44,000 prisoners, in that it’s low-level crime. Burglary is basically the stick-up kids that
prowl bad neighborhoods or break into your house, while larceny is more professional
and involves greater sums of money. So what happens if all these prisoners go
loose suddenly? Well, if you live in the American south or
in California, then we have bad news for you, because the majority of prisoners are held
in Texas, California, Florida, and Georgia respectively. In Texas you would have 215,000 prisoners
going free all at once, while California would see 201,000 inmates go free. Florida would have 153,000 former cons on
its streets and Georgia would see 88,500 prisoners set loose. The safest place to be would actually be Vermont
and the District of Columbia, with each holding just 1,800 prisoners. Basically, you want to stay out of sunny California
if the prisons empty, as well as staying out of the southern United States. But of course not every prisoner is a con
waiting to strike again, and so the real question is if released, how much of the prison population
would simply re-offend? Well, the US has never been good at reducing
recidivism rates, or the rate at which released prisoners will reoffend and wind up back in
prison, so the news isn’t good. Today 68% of prisoners released from prison
were re-arrested within three years of their release, and a whopping 77% of prisoners were
rearrested within five years. Those are pretty appalling statistics, so
it’s clear that if all prisoners were released at once, the US would see a major crime wave. If however the US took steps to try and reduce
recidivism then we would see a far less impact on our crime stats with the release of all
prisoners. People reoffend because after leaving prison,
they simply have no other option but to engage in crime in order to make ends meet. Others entered jail as first-time offenders
and spent five years or more in crime college, being turned into hardened, smarter criminals. With almost no chances for prisoners to improve
themselves or turn their lives around while in prison, such as education and job skills
training programs, it’s no surprise that newly released prisoners see no other option but
to return to crime. A prisoner with options is far less likely
to reoffend, and prisoners who graduated from college have a stunning 20% recidivism rate. The proof is in the pudding, as they say,
and if we simply gave our prisoners opportunities to educate themselves, we would have less
crime and spend less money punishing crime. Sadly, American culture towards crime is to
simply blindly punish offenders, despite this tactic very clearly not working. But what would the impact be on daily life? Well, most people would likely hardly notice
to be honest. The idea of hundreds of thousands of prisoners
being released all at once sounds terrifying, and we would expect our cities to turn into
lawless war zones. Yet the reality is that most crimes occur
in lower income neighborhoods, and so the majority of people would be shielded from
the repercussions of a mass release of prisoners simply due to their economic privilege. Minority populations would suffer the most,
as they occupy the majority of lower income neighborhoods and would be preyed upon primarily
by newly released cons. We could expect a massive police backlash
against rising crime, as local police forces struggle to stay on top of a sudden crime
wave. It wouldn’t take very long for jails to start
filling up again as the police immediately begin re-arresting offenders. More terrifyingly though is the likelihood
of full-out gang wars rocking the nation’s biggest cities, as entire gangs are released
simultaneously and compete for new and old territory. The influx of seasoned and veteran gangbangers
to existing gangs on the outside would also make these gangs much smarter and better at
committing crimes. Entire criminal networks would arise virtually
overnight, thanks to all the connections cons make while in prison. Police would have to launch a focused and
systematic effort to break the new criminal networks that would arise, and would indubitably
need federal assistance to do so. It could very well take the police years,
perhaps decades, to fully break the crime networks that would arise from hundreds of
thousands of cons suddenly being let loose. The one thing that American prisons are really
good at is building a better con, and a prisoner may go to jail being a local neighborhood
hustler, and leave with connections to international crime cartels. Yet as we mentioned, you would likely be insulated
from most of these effects. As usual the high crime rates would affect
the poorest neighborhoods, as crime has historically done. Some of your favorite spots to hang out may
become unsafe to do so after dark, but your normal day to day life will be largely unaffected
unless you happen to live in one of these poorer neighborhoods. Minority populations would bear the brunt
of the crime wave that would arise, and the rest of society would likely not notice many
ill effects to their daily lives. Despite all this though, it’s important to
remember that in the US crime has been going down for decades, and today we live in a safer
US than ever before. Perhaps it’s time for Americans to rethink
their attitude on punishment, and follow the lead of nations like sweden who focus on educating
and ‘fixing’ their criminals rather than just punishing them. What would you do if all the criminals in your local
jails and prisons were released? Do you think we should try to educate and
fix prisoners rather than just punish them? Let us know in the comments! And as always if you enjoyed this video don’t
forget to Like, Share, and Subscribe for more great content!

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