Prison State

The United States has the world's largest prison population. There are currently 2.3 million people in US prisons, approximately 25% of all the people currently inside a jail or detention facility on the planet. These figures don't even include those currently in local city jails awaiting trial or sentencing.

In the state of Kentucky, prisons are full and overcrowded. It is currently ranked the 6th worst prison system in the US, with the population increasing 70% between 2000 and 2015. Among the hardened criminals, there are people locked up with non-violent offenses, individuals with mental health disorders, no cash for bail cases, and juvenile offenders for truancy and fighting in class. Prison State follows the lives of four Kentucky inmates. They grew up or lived in the Beecher Terrace neighborhood, where almost one in five of its residents has served time. It is a poor neighborhood where going to prison is so normalized that many of its children expect that they, too, will one day serve time.

Christel is a first time offender. She is 15 with ADHD and bipolar disorder. After fighting in school and skipping classes repeatedly, she was arrested, and the juvenile court judge put her in the HIP or Home Incarceration Program. After less than a week, she skipped school again and she was locked up in juvenile detention for 60 days.

Keith is what Kentucky prison officials call a "Million-$-Prisoner." He has been incarcerated five times, serving a total of 27 years, and it has cost the state over a million dollars to keep him in the system. Diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disease, Keith admits he does better inside the prison, where he is guaranteed structure, food and medicine. He is pending early release under new state prison reforms and is concerned about the challenges he will face outside - the lack of funds, employment and medicines.

Demetria is a 14-year-old with 11 charges. She has a severe anxiety disorder, which began when her mother was shot when she was nine. She is in juvenile detention for assaulting her aunt. With tensions running high at home, the juvenile court kept her locked up since her aunt did not want her back.

Finally, we meet Charlie, a 67-year-old Vietnam veteran who is in prison for robbery. He is also a longtime heroin addict who started his addiction in Vietnam when he was 19 years old. He has PTSD due to the atrocities he witnessed and unwittingly committed during the war. He was released into a detox facility, where treatment for his PTSD has finally begun.

Incarceration has become the primary solution to all types of social problems - even those beyond criminality and lawlessness - in a significant sector of American society today. It starts with how at-risk kids are treated. If they are out of line in schools, if they have behavioral problems due to mental health issues and more, they are locked up. The prison system carries a hefty $80 billion price tag. It might be worth investing some of it to better social support systems to break the cycle.

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