Monday, July 25, 2011
The "Land of the Free" is No More
Yes, it's official -- we lead the world in locking up our own fellow citizens. We are a nation trademarked by freedom and liberty, and yet we have the highest percentage of inmates per 100,000 citizens on earth. Why is this? Is it that our citizens have no regard for the law; no respect for the principles of freedom and democracy? Not quite.
In 2004, 55% of prisoners, according to the US Department of Justice, were "serving time for drug offenses". It's been 25 years since the passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, and accordingly the United States prison population has grown from 300,000 to over 2 million in less than 20 years.
Taxpayers spend $60 billion a year on prisons. Each inmate costs tax-paying, law-abiding American citizens over $23,000 in federal tax revenue dollars per year. Talk about high-maintenence! And to top it all off, 67% of ex-prisons return to jail for re-offenses and 52% are re-incarcerated!
Now hang on a minute -- let us contemplate what purpose prisons serve. If someone is a danger to society, they must be quarantined and treated and fixed so they can become safe members of civilization once again. But that isn't how the system works. We punish people, costing tax-payers hard earned money, for drug crimes that do no harm to anyone but the arrestee! Laws are supposed to protect society, when in fact they often do not. And not because they are ineffective, but because the crime itself is not dangerous! Sounds a bit ridiculous, no?
Going off of what I said earlier, one of the purposes of jail is to reform criminals so they can once again participate legally and safely as members of society. But if over half of all inmates return to jail, doesn't that make the jail-reform process an enormous failure? Would you send a loved one to a rehab clinic with a 50% success rate?
And to top it all off, there exist such things as privatize prisons. Yep, people building prisons outside of the federal government but collecting government money to fund their services, and subsequently, turning a profit. Additionally, these private jail corporations have been known to lobby Congress for stricter laws and longer jail sentences to continue raking in cash. But that's a whole different issue. I'll have to contemplate the private prison-industrial-complex in another post sometime in the near future.
What do YOU think? Why are we the world leader in locking up our own people?