I just read an article by Nick Wing pointing out that the United States puts a greater percentage of its population in jail than any other OECD country. The OECD distinction excludes a number of countries that have poor regard for individual freedom, countries like Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and South Africa, but among countries that do at least claim to value personal rights, we are the worst in this regard. We are worse than Rwanda, worse even than Cuba.
But it’s more than merely numbers. Doing this is costing us big bucks. According to the Wikipedia page on “prison”, the cost of keeping these people locked up last year was $74,000,000,000, or in Congress-speak, 74 Billion. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg because the prison population is aging and in generally poor health, and that means the bill for prisoner healthcare is due to rise fast. Not that healthcare for prisoners is anything to brag about. Consider this from the Wiki section on healthcare for women in America’s prisons:
Policies regarding health treatment at prison institutions often limit the availability of care. For example, at many institutions women must wait in lines in strenuous conditions until designated times for most medical treatments and medications. Medical treatment oftentimes needs to be requested and approved by correctional officers with little or no medical training. Due to the geographic isolation of prisons and the comparatively low wages offered, there is a lack of qualified and experienced healthcare professionals willing to work in prison which reduces the quality of care offered. Overcrowding and poor environmental facilities exacerbate the problem.
And as for the accommodations, it says this:
American prisons are overcrowded. As of 2009, California’s 158,000 inmates were detained in prisons that were designed to hold 84,000—almost 14,000 of these inmates were sleeping in very tight spaces, or in hallways, or on floors. People are also being incarcerated at an increasing rate and new prisons cannot be built fast enough.
The main reason for our soaring prison population seems to be the abject failure of the so-called War on Drugs and the states’ desire to fight the problem by mandatory sentences which deny judges the authority to exercise any discretion. In effect, our culture has decided to warehouse the problem away from public view at the expense of human suffering, even though about half those in for drugs are there not for distributing but for using. Many are in for marijuana, something now legalized in several states. Sending such people to prison seems idiotic to me when they could be out working under supervision.
I’m sure some will label me a bleeding-heart for feeling sorry for criminals, and that’s fine, but I’d like any who do to explain to me why it seems to be Christian-based Republicans who most support this policy. Jesus considered everybody worth saving I thought. Instead, those who have addictive metabolisms and happen to get hooked in America are finding themselves committed to some kind of lower level of hell.
I was glad to read recently that Attorney General Eric Holder has launched prosecution guidelines that may reduce the number of mandatory sentences for some, but it won’t surprise me if the House GOP majority finds some way to squelch it.