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

Reality of incarceration in the U.S.
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Behind bars: Photos capture the reality of incarceration in the US
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)
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)

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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