Monday, September 8, 2008
Standard wisdom says "no way."
We may have the world's highest rate of incarceration — with only 5 percent of global population, 25 percent of prisoners worldwide. We may be throwing hundreds of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders, many barely of age, behind bars — one reason a stunning one out of every 100 Americans is now imprisoned. We may have created a huge "prison-industrial complex" of prison builders, contractors and swollen criminal justice bureaucracies.
Federal, state and local outlays for law enforcement and incarceration are costing, according to a Senate committee estimate, a stunning $200 billion annually, siphoning off funds from enterprises that actually build our future: universities, schools, health, infrastructure.
We are reaping the whirlwind of "get tough" on crime statutes ranging from "three strikes you're in" to mandatory sentences to reincarcerating recent prisoners for minor parole violations. And every year we're seeing hundreds of thousands of convicts leave prison with scant chances of being employed, no right to vote, no access to public housing, high levels of addiction, illiteracy and mental illness. Overwhelmed by the odds against them, at least 50 percent are rearrested within two years.
A serious set of problems, a shadow over our national future? No doubt. But do our politicians talk much about alternatives? No way — they typically find it too risky to be attacked as "soft on crime." [Mark Godsey]