Friday, April 3, 2009

Jim Webb and our Flawed Prison System

Jim Webb has taken a politically courageous but obviously correct position that our prison system and drug policies are in serious need of an overhaul. It is nice to finally see a mainstream politician state what has been obvious to most of us for years:

Let's start with a premise that I don't think a lot of Americans are aware of. We have 5% of the world's population; we have 25% of the world's known prison population. We have an incarceration rate in the United States, the world's greatest democracy, that is five times as high as the average incarceration rate of the rest of the world. There are only two possibilities here: either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States; or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice. . . .

The elephant in the bedroom in many discussions on the criminal justice system is the sharp increase in drug incarceration over the past three decades. In 1980, we had 41,000 drug offenders in prison; today we have more than 500,000, an increase of 1,200%.

It's tough to digest those figures. America, the freest nation on earth? We take away the freedom of our citizens at a rate that dwarfs that of China or even Iran. Face facts America, we are the most imprisoned nation on earth, and all because we've made it into a commercial enterprise that cashes in on the hypocrisy of those who say "keep the government out of our private lives" out of one side of their mouth, while screaming to imprison anyway who uses a substance they don't like out of the other. Even President Obama, who should know better wimped out when he had a national stage to educate the populace on the issue.

We don't have the luxury of this level of waste, ignorance and hypocrisy any more.

hat tip: Ed Brayton

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