Behind bars: Photos capture the reality of incarceration in the US

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Reality of incarceration in the U.S.
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Behind bars: Photos capture the reality of incarceration in the US
In this Aug. 31, 2015 photo, a room used for recreation by inmates in solitary confinement at the Washington Corrections Center, in Shelton, Wash. is shown. A new program that may soon be extended to dozens of maximum custody solitary confinement prisoners at the facility will give inmates the option of using their recreation hour outside of their cells to watch sunsets, mountains and underwater seascapes on video, with the hope that they will be calmer, and guards will have to deal with fewer outbursts or violent interactions. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
FILE -- In this July 24, 2014 file photo, an inmate is seen in one of the cells at the mental health unit at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's Stockton Health Facility in Stockton, Calif. In an agreement filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, Friday, Aug. 29, state corrections official have agreed to shift mentally ill inmates into specialized housing units instead of placing them in the same isolation units as are used for other inmates, Friday, Aug. 29.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, file)
Harris County inmate Kristi Leonard leans against a telephone in her cell block Tuesday, June 4, 2013, in Houston. Arrested numerous times for prostitution, Leonard is part of a rehabilitation program called We've Been There Done That. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
An inmate stares out a window at the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, Calif., Friday, March 2, 2012. California prisons marked a milestone Friday when California prison officials announced they have removed the last of nearly 20,000 extra beds that had been jammed into gymnasium and other common areas to house inmates who overflowed traditional prison cells.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 11: Undocumented immigrant Jose Reyes Robledo, 42, Mexico poses for a portrait as he serves time in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Maricopa County Tent City jail on March 11, 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona. He said he has lived in Phoenix and previously San Diego as an undocumented immigrant for 20 years. He is married with three children and was born in the United States. He was arrested and charged in Maricopa County on July, 2012 for armed robbery with a deadly weapon. As an undocumented immigrant with a criminal record, he may likely be deported to Mexico after serving his jail sentence. President Barack Obama's administration deported a record 1.5 million people during his first term of office with 55 percent of deportees in 2012 having a criminal conviction for drug offenses or driving under the influence, according to U.S. immigration officials. The Maricopa County Tent City jail, run by county Sheriff Joe Arpaio, maintains a controversial policy of issuing striped uniforms and pink undergarments to inmates, despite an ongoing court challenge. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
A cell in an enhanced supervision housing unit on Rikers Island in New York, Thursday, March 12, 2015. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has unveiled a comprehensive plan to curb jail violence after a visit to the problem-plagued Rikers Island jail complex. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
In this photo taken on Tuesday, May 5, 2015, inmate Jesse Cole is shown on a television screen as his wife Edna wipes away a tear while sitting with their sons, William, 4, center, and 8-month-old Jesse James, during a video visitation with at the Fort Bend County Jail, in Richmond, Texas. Prisonersâ rights advocates are worried that the growing use in the U.S. of video technology to facilitate visits between inmates and their family and friends at county jails and prisons is part of a trend to eliminate the more traditional in-person visit. But officials who run these facilities say video visitation has been a boon to their efforts to improve security and increase visiting hours. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
An inmate uses the recreation room of one of the housing units at Sacramento County's Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove, Calif., Thursday, May 30, 2013. A report by the California Little Hoover Commission says Gov. Jerry Brown's prison realignment plan is forcing county sheriff's rather than judges, to decide which inmates get released early from jail and which serve their full sentences.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
An inmate does pushups on the floor of his cell at the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca says he plans to implement all the reforms suggested by a commission in the wake of allegations that a culture of violence flourished in his jails. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
AP10ThingsToSee - In this June 26, 2014 photo, a U.S. veteran with post-traumatic stress, sits in a segregated holding pen at Chicago's Cook County Jail after he was arrested on a narcotics charge. The complex, with more than 10,600 inmates, is one of the country's largest single-site jails. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Raymondville, UNITED STATES: A Homeland Security Officer(L) talks with detainees inside Homeland Security's Willacy Detention Center, a facility with 10 giant tents that can house up to 2000 detained illegal immigrants, 10 May 2007 in Raymondville, Texas. The 65 million USD facility was constructed as part of the Secure Border Initative last July and now where many of the former 'catch and release' illegals are detained for processing. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo taken Oct. 15, 2014, an inmate lies across a bunk in the psychiatric unit of the Pierce County Jail in Tacoma, Wash. Some of Washingtonâs mentally ill are strapped to gurneys in emergency rooms awaiting beds in psychiatric hospitals, while others sit in jail for months waiting for competency evaluations and treatment, with some getting trapped in both broken systems And receiving no treatment. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
A prisoner behind bars and thick plastic looks over at a corrections officer in an enhanced supervision housing unit on Rikers Island in New York, Thursday, March 12, 2015. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has unveiled a comprehensive plan to curb jail violence after a visit to the problem-plagued Rikers Island jail complex. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Correctional officer Ken Kleinworth frisks an inmate leaving a dining hall at the Washington Corrections Center, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011, in Shelton, Wash. The population of Washington state prison inmates has become whiter, older and more violent in the past decade, an Associated Press review of Department of Corrections records has found. And while running the prison system eats up 5 percent of the state budget, there appear to be few places that can be cut without having to resort to releasing inmates early, as some states have done to balance the budget. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
FILE - In this Jan. 11, 2012, file photo, a man waits to be processed at a Border Patrol detention center in Imperial Beach, Calif. The U.S. Border Patrol's parent agency on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, issued nationwide custody standards, a little more than a year after its jails were overwhelmed with Central American children fleeing to the United States. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)
FILE- In this 2010 file photo, an inmate reads a book in his bunk at the John Lilley Correctional Center in Boley, Okla. Oklahoma Department of Corrections spokeswoman Terri Watkins declined to speculate on why Oklahomaâs prison homicide rate is so high, but those who work inside Oklahomaâs prisons say the reason is simple: the facilities are overcrowded and understaffed. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)
FILE - In this July 31, 2014 file photo, an inmate at Rikers Island juvenile detention facility carries a plastic fork behind his back as he walks with other inmates in single file to the jail's chapel for a visit from Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons and entertainer L.L. Cool J. The city's juvenile jails are extremely violent and unsafe, the result of a deeply ingrained culture of violence in which guards routinely violate constitutional rights of teenage inmates and subject them to "rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force," federal prosecutors said in a scathing report released Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)
FILE -- In this photo taken Oct. 15, 2014, an inmate huddles under a heavy blanket on a bunk in the psychiatric unit of the Pierce County Jail in Tacoma, Wash. Washington On Thursday, March 12, 2015, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill to set a 14-day limit on the amount of time a mentally ill person can be held in jail awaiting competency evaluations or treatment. The new law comes ahead of a federal trial that aims to end the competency wait lists. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
An inmate sits on his bed in the geriatric unit during a media tour Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, at the Utah State Correctional Facility in Draper, Utah. Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that he's opposed to the idea of allowing a state commission to pick a location to build a new prison instead of leaving the decision with the Legislature. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, Pool)
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It's no surprise that incarceration in the United States is a complex issue. The nation currently leads the world with 2.2 million people serving in jails or prisons. This is up 500 percent from the last 30 years, according to The Sentencing Project, despite the fact that the crime rate has actually dropped during that time.

The issues that plague the criminal justice system -- overcrowding, prison reform, mental illness and diminishing funds, racial bias -- are not new, but they have become more burdensome over time.

More and more people are questioning the economic, societal, and political cost of incarcerating these people.

One of the reasons for the influx in the prison population is because more of those who are arrested are being sent to jails, especially for misdemeanors, and are staying there for longer periods of time. A recent report even states that nearly 60 percent of the people locked up have not been convicted yet or cannot afford bail. Another major reason for the rising numbers is the higher percentage of people in prison who are poor or mentally ill.

However, when you mix these different aspects together, it creates a hazardous environment for everyone involved. ​

Sure, many of these people who are in prisons and jails have criminal records -- but there is always another side to every story.

SEE MORE: 5 facts about police brutality in the United States that will shock you

Research shows that over-incarceration ​may actually increase future crime. Nonviolent offenders are frequently in the same company as violent ones, which could lead to more violent behavior. As The National Review points out, "offenders entering prison for nonviolent crimes often face the very real problem that if they respond to threats with violence, they risk extended time in prison."

Recently, President Barack Obama announced changes to federal processes in order to make it easier for convicted criminals to find work. The Department of Justice has also released nearly 6,000 prisoners and rolled back some of the outdated sentencing laws facing criminals, especially ones that involve nonviolent drug offenses.

Finding a way to decrease the incarceration rate and all the issues that come with it is not an easy task. Discovering solutions to reduce cost, effectively diminish crime rate and help productively reintroduce convicted criminals into society is one that will take time. But the long journey has only just begun.

Watch below to learn the numbers behind President Obama's push for prison reform:
The Numbers Behind Obama's Push for Prison Reform


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