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March 6, 2008

"One nation, behind bars"

Bilde The Detroit Free Press has this potent editorial with this same title as this post.  Here are excerpts:

The U.S. prison population, the world's largest, has grown nearly eightfold over the past 35 years and now costs taxpayers at least $60 billion a year.  An eye-popping report released last week by the Pew Center on the States found that, for the first time, more than one in every 100 American adults is in jail or prison. And that figure doesn't count the hundreds of thousands of people who are on probation and parole.

What is the goal here?  Is there a smarter way to get there?  What are we as a society getting in return for all this money?  What is this massive and growing penal system accomplishing?  Before the nation hits two in 100 behind bars, which seems inevitable, it's time for a national debate on corrections and criminal justice policies that will lead to a more rational, humane and cost-effective system.

The nation has gotten far too little for its enormous investment in locking people up. Violent crime rates are higher than they were more than three decades ago, when tough-on-crime policies, including mandatory sentencing laws, created a prison-building boom.  States can no longer afford to divert so many resources from education, health care and other pressing needs....

Nor can the nation ignore the human costs of mass incarceration.  Nearly half of the 2.3 million adults locked up are African Americans, who make up less than 13% of the U.S. population.  A stunning one in nine black males between the ages of 20-34 is behind bars....

Unacceptably high incarceration rates tear at the nation's social fabric and take public money from education, health care, transportation and other vital needs.  Nor have they significantly reduced crime. It's time to re-examine the policies that have made us the incarceration nation.

Regular readers know that I have been regularly calling upon the Presidential candidates and the media to get started on "a national debate on corrections and criminal justice policies that will lead to a more rational, humane and cost-effective system." 

Needless to say, I am not surprised that Hillary Clinton has not started a healthy crime-and-punishment dialogue given that she and her husband have both played a major role in the modern Democratic Party's apparent affinity for an irrational, inhumane and ineffective set of corrections and criminal justice policies.  But I am still hoping that supposed maverick John McCain or claimed change agent Barack Obama will start using their bully pulpits to help shake this country out of its very harmful incarceration addiction.  Or maybe they, too, are taking to Incarcerex.

March 6, 2008 at 06:19 PM | Permalink


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Tracked on Mar 6, 2008 6:48:42 PM


GEORGIA DEPT OF CORRECTION at , http://www.dcor.state.ga.us/NewsRoom/PublicInformation/ChooseFreedom.html - It is disturbingly noted ; Nationally, one in every thirty-two adults is under some form of correctional supervision, in prison or jail, or on probation or parole. Incredibly, Georgia leads the nation with one in every fifteen adult Georgians under some form of correctional oversight. Simply put, no Georgian is unaffected by crime. The “Choose Freedom” inter-agency media campaign is designed to educate the youth of “at risk” communities that all actions have consequences. “At risk” communities are those that send a disproportionately large number of people to prison, or where trends suggest there is a significant growth in the number of people entering prison.

Posted by: America land of the free? | Mar 6, 2008 9:28:28 PM

Georgia Dept. of Correction says, "Simply put, no Georgian is unaffected by crime" I say, "Georgian's so called sex criminals are very affected by insane and nasty lawmakers.

Wendy Whitaker.... is on the registry because, at age 17, she had a single consensual act of oral sex with a 15-year-old boy. For this one act, committed ten years ago, the now 26-year-old Ms. Whitaker and her husband have been forced from one home and now will likely be forced from another.

Plaintiff Joseph Linaweaver was 16 when he had a single consensual act of oral sex with a 14-year-old girl. For this act, Mr. Linaweaver is being driven from his home.

Plaintiff Janet Allison was convicted of being "party to a crime of statutory rape and child molestation" because she did not prevent her 15-year-old daughter from becoming sexually active. Due to this conviction, Ms. Allison and her family will have to leave their home.

The punishment for failure to comply with the Act's residency and working restrictions is a minimum of 10 years imprisonment and a maximum of 30 years imprisonment.

Posted by: America land of the free? | Mar 6, 2008 9:54:04 PM

yeah, there is an answer, LEGALIZE IT. its simple. Caughing, farting, and sneezing are about the only things left in the US that are legal. I love america and america has constant desire for renewal, thats what makes it so great. It can always change...Lets make the Change...
Drug policies are outdated for one.

Posted by: david | Mar 7, 2008 3:31:10 AM

We have to establish a way that allows certain non violent offenders a way back into society.We are crushing peoples dreams because they made a mistake. As a non violent felon myself I can tell you first hand the amount of jobs I have been turned down for and jobs I couldn't ever dream of applying for. My non violent crime was 22 yrs ago.

Posted by: Gary | Mar 7, 2008 9:40:31 AM

I share the frustration at the unjust an inefficient locking up of non-violent criminals, and the disgust with "sex offender" laws that cannot distinguish between consensual oral sex and the sodomization of a five-year-old boy.

That said, what is this article's basis for its "violent crime rates are higher now than they were three decades ago" statement? That strikes me as patently false. Part of the criminal law discussion is the drop in violent crime--murders, rapes, etc., especially in big cities. And even if the "three decades" is true, it is misleading because whatever was true three decades ago, violent crime was much higher in the 1980s and early 1990s than it is now.

Posted by: Random Clerk | Mar 7, 2008 10:55:31 AM

"That said, what is this article's basis for its 'violent crime rates are higher now than they were three decades ago' statement? That strikes me as patently false."

Literally true, but used in a misleading way. The FBI violent crime index for 2006 was just a tad higher than for 1976. Crime had been rising in 1976, and it continued to rise, and it was only then that we reversed the previous trend toward shorter sentences and starting lengthening them again. We did, indeed, get something very important for our money, as discussed further at Crime & Consequences

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Mar 7, 2008 7:44:00 PM

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