A new report by a prominent human rights group paints an ugly picture of America's prison population and the sentencing guidelines that created it.
Human Rights Watch's new report claims the U.S. prison system is plagued by "disproportionately long prison terms, mandatory sentencing without parole, and treating youth offenders as adults."
The report points out that America is the prison capital of the world, with 1.6 million inmates, the highest total and per-capita number of prisoners in any country.
Human Rights Watch research in 2012 also shows there is a burgeoning number of senior citizen prisoners that prisons are "ill-equipped to handle," and an estimated 93,000 young people under 18 in adult jails and another 2,200 in adult prisons.
There are also hundreds of children in solitary confinement, and racial and ethnic minorities "remain disproportionately represented in the prison population," the report finds.
As research cited by University of Chicago shows, there is wide agreement amongst criminologist and other researchers that the increase in prison population over the last three decades has played a significant role in the nation's plummeting crime rate.
But research also suggests there are diminishing returns as more and more people continue to be locked up.
Last year, former Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer argued that declining law enforcement budgets require prosecutors and the criminal justice system at large to look at ways to reduce sentences by rewarding inmates' good behavior and encouraging prisoners to take part in programs proven to reduce recidivism.