Sunday, March 17, 2013

Two Million and Counting


The United States incarcerates more people than any other country.  In fact, we send so many people to prison that a new term has been coined for it; mass incarceration.  Mass incarceration.  More than two million of our citizens at any given time. We are increasingly criminalizing behaviors related to mental illness, drug addiction and poverty.  And we are punitive in our sentencing.  We send people to prison for a long time.  We incarcerate more people per capita than China.  Once inside the system, there is little to no opportunity for rehabilitation, education, or treatment.  Some of our prisons are tent cities in the desert.  Reincarceration rates are high.  And, contrary to our own stereotypes, increasing numbers of those incarcerated are white and female, a phenomenon most certainly related to the meth epidemic, but more importantly, prevents the mainstream from using racist generalizations to explain incarceration rates.  Across the board, Americans spend a lot of time in jail.

What purpose is this really serving us?  We are burdening ourselves with the cost of housing and feeding these citizens that with help, could be contributing to society.  We are entrenching a large percentage of our population in a criminal justice system that is characterized by recidivism, relapse, and heredity.  That this kind of system does nothing to change or eliminate criminal behavior is clear, even with mass incarceration we seem to have no shortage of criminals. That prevention, in the form of education, drug treatment, and affordable healthcare is needed is clear.  So is a change in attitude.  We need to end the era of mandatory minimum sentencing and allow our elected judges to do their job, judge what is best for each offender, for each offense.  We also need to pay close attention to what we criminalize and how those standards are enforced.  Perhaps we have lost some piece of our humanity to the our zealous pursuit of a crime-free society, perhaps we need to learn to see each others value.

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