Friday, February 29, 2008

we're number 1!

We see all these depressing international statistics about how the US has slid on rankings of such socio-economic indicators as life expectancy at birth, infant mortality rate, literacy, educational attainment, etc.

Well, a report released on Thursday shows us at #1 in at least ONE such area.

We imprison a higher percentage of our population than any other country. Even more than China, with its far-greater number of political prisoners.

More than 1% of adults are in the slammer. That is a truly depressing number. The rise over the past 20 years has been mostly due to the absurdly strict sentencing guidelines many states have passed, the so-called "3 strikes and out" thing. Which means for example that some guy who is up before a judge for shoplifting, having already been convicted of possession of one marijuana joint and a prior petty vandalism charge, will find himself sentenced to prison.

The fact that our drug laws treat possession of crack cocaine (more popular among black Americans) far more severely than possession of powder cocaine (more popular among white Americans) is part of the discrepancy among incarceration rates for blacks and whites.

When we throw people into prison - especially young men - for such petty non-violent crimes, you are depriving them the ability to overcome their mistake and maybe become productive members of society. And we have to pay for them, too.

And it doesn't help with crime that much (if at all) anyway. New York state has seen its crime rate drop since 1993 - despite reducing its incarceration rate. Other states like Florida have seen both the prison rate and the crime rate go up. There are many other factors - putting people in prison is not the most effective method. After all, many other countries like Canada and European countries have lower prison rates and lower crime rates.

The article doesn't address it, but in many states moves to rescind tough sentencing laws have been blocked by the commercial prison sector. Yes, people run prisons on a for-profit basis, as contractors for various states. And these people don't want to see their supply of prisoners dry up, so the urge stricter sentencing laws.

The administration of justice, the operation of a penal system should NOT be run on a for-profit basis. It encourages this type of abuse.

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