Saturday, February 17, 2007

U.S. Prison Population Set To Surge

Get-tough policies that lock up offenders for longer sentences are propelling a projected increase of nearly 200,000 in the nation's prison population in the next five years, according a private study released Wednesday.

The increase - projected by the Pew Charitable Trusts study to be three times faster than overall population growth in the U.S. - is expected to cost states more than $27 billion.

Ok, we are #1. We have the highest percentage of our population in prison over any industrialized nation. Now what? Do we keep tossing people in jail for using drugs at a cost of tens of thousands per person per year? Do we decide to actually try to rehabilitate instead of warehouse so people won't return to prison? Or do we keep on spending more and more money on locking people up?

I consider part of the problem are lack of introspection as a society. We hear figures about high our prison population is but never ask ourselves why so many are behind bars. Why do countries in Europe manage to not have so many criminals as we do? My two quick answers are that we criminalize alot of behavior that is unnecessary such as our harsh drug laws. The war on drugs not just locks up people directly for drugs, but also for ancilliary offenses such as gang violence, theft, robberies, murders that are all dependent on drugs being highly criminalized. End the war on drugs, and our crime rate plummets.

We also have a consumer culture that demands that we attempt to conspicuously consume everything in sight. Our high rates of debt are an example of a result of this philosophy. You also may recall that after 9/11, President Bush's first thought was not to ask us to work together, to enlist in the military, to do anything except for God's sake please don't stop going to the malls and charging for things at Brookstone.

So we are building more prisons costing us $27 billion. Hey, it's cheaper than Iraq. Perhaps we should empty our prisons and send these folks to Iraq. We are half-way there. The military now is accepting felons with multiple infractions. It's hard to see the problems in America and still think that we are the indisputed best place on God's green earth. So, like the Americans we are, we will not really think about these things, cut some funding out of social programs, and lock more and more people away. I feel safer already.