Sunday, April 24, 2005
THE US penal system, the world's largest, maintained its steady growth in 2004.
The latest official half-yearly figures put the nation's prison and jail population at 2,131,180 in the middle of last year, an increase of 2.3 per cent over 2003.
The United States has incarcerated 726 people per 100,000 of its population, seven to 10 times as many as most other democracies. The rate for England is 142 per 100,000, for France 91 and for Japan 58....
According to the Justice Department, violent crime in the United States fell by more than 33 per cent from 1994 to 2003, and property crimes fell by 23 per cent.
Yet the prison population has continued to climb, increasing an annual average of 3.5 per cent since 1995....
This is the sort of upside-down writing that reinforces the belief among conservatives that the international media is unrelentingly leftist in its politics. The crime rate has fallen so dramatically -- New York's is now lower than most major European cities -- because we have deliberately increased the frequency and the duration of jail time for crime.
Imagine the outrage if any mainstream media outlet reversed cause and effect in writing about liberal social programs, to wit: "According to the Social Security Administration, poverty among the elderly has declined steadily since 1940. Yet the percentage of senior citizens dependant on government subsidies has continued to climb."
It is astonishing that neither reporters nor editors think there is anything wrong with this.
I agree that the cause-effect issue is a problem for the paragraph you highlight. However, the rising numbers in the prison population is not due primarily to the Just Incarceration of Murderers, Thieves, and Rapist. It's due to drug enforcement. That is, drug users are going to jail, and that's the central reason our prisons are bursting at the seams.
41.2% of jailed offenders according to this handy graphic are there for drug offenses.
I am not a 'soft-on-crime' liberal. I believe that strong enforcement of the law is vital to maintaining a civil society. But, in the case of drug possession, the law is insane. Drug users aren't criminals simply because they use drugs.
When we're stacking the convicted like cordwood in the prisons, it might be time to look not at the media treatment of the issue but instead at the misguided laws that unnecessarily overpopulate the penal system.
I tend to think that incarceration for possession is a bad idea. The only worse idea is leaving drug addicts out on the streets, where they degrade the social fabric. The presence of large numbers of drug dealers causes lots of other crime to go up.
So, if you are not going to put the drug addicts in prison, you should put them somewhere else. Perhaps it is time to create separate "addicts prisons" where the emphasis is on treatment, but where mere possessors are kept out of the general prison population. You could give them some euphamistic name and make different rules for the release of their records after their sentence is up. That would give them a better shot at making it in the real world after release.
Point is, we don't want to duplicate the problem we created in the 1960s when we emptied all the mental hospitals without having some other solution for dealing with the released patients.
THANK YOU!!! This is one of my greatest 'liberal-pet-peeves'. They are so blinded by their biases that they are incapable of seeing the a+b=c logic behind this.
There was a similar study in a state or county that allowed easier Right-to-carry laws for handguns. 6 months later there were headlines along the lines of "Gun Crime Down Despite Citizens Owning Guns"
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