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Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Drug-Free America and the explosion of the prison population

 You know, we Americans are a strange bunch. We come up with the darnedest solutions to our problems.  We’ve been brow beaten for years into believing we have a raging crime wave in our midst.   This usually takes place in political environments so what do we do?  Far too often we allow their fear mongering to goad us into taking the bait.

That bait tends to lead to our ever escalating incarceration rates in the United States.
Back in 1970 we had approximately 330,000 prisoners in the U.S. Today there are approximately 2.3 million Americans in prison. Are we to believe that there are 7 times as many criminals in the country today?  The key question is: are we seven times safer as a result? If not, we’re paying a hell of a price for insecurity.

We now have more prisoners in America than China and they have 1 billion MORE people in their country. Think about that..  We have more prisoners than any other country in the history of the world and we’re supposed to be the land of the free. We now have more prison guards than Marines; More prisoners than military soldiers.

What we are doing isn’t working.

How we got here is a bit of a mixed bag.  The war on drugs had a huge impact on the increase along with a general  “get tough on crime” attitude. Lord knows, no politician wants to appear to be “soft on crime”.

Here in California of course, we instituted a “Three Strikes” penalty years ago that certainly added fuel to the fire.

Are we trying to create a drug-free America? Is that even desirable? Prohibition didn’t work. Why would this?  When you lock up a pedophile, little kids are certainly safer.  But when you lock up a drug dealer, you create an opportunity for the next man in line. I think we can all agree that drug use is NOT subsiding?  Are drugs any harder to obtain? I doubt it.

In June 2006 a prison study by The Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons discovered that within three years of their release, 67% of former prisoners are re-arrested and 52% are re-incarcerated, that’s the sort of  recidivism rate that calls into question the effectiveness of America's corrections system, which costs taxpayers $60 billion a year.

Sheesh! For that kind of money we send them all to Ivy League colleges.

Since 95% of inmates are eventually released back into society, ill-equipped to lead productive lives. We have to decide how to do two things: 1) Apply some sort of punishment but one that works? and 2) Institute a rehabilitation process that brings them back into society as a well-functioning citizen.

We don’t want to give things to criminals for their sake, we want to give things to criminals for our sake.

What do think about crime and punishment? Are you satisfied with the exploding prison population or do you see a different way? Hopefully your ideas are a bit less expensive for taxpayers and a lot more effective.

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