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May 2005
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Are the states waking up?

Is it my imagination, or are we starting to see more of this kind of editorial?
From the Daytona Beach News Journal

Every 11 minutes, prison doors slam shut behind another American. The combined population of state and federal prisons and local jails reached 2.1 million last year, a number that keeps growing.

Florida accounts for a sizeable portion of that growth, incarcerating nearly 85,000. Here, as in the rest of the country, the inmate population is mostly young, mostly male, disproportionately minority. Corrections will claim more than $2 billion of the state’s budget for the coming fiscal year. That doesn’t include the money the state pays to support the court system, or the substantial sums each county spends on jails. And the inmates keep coming — the growth of Florida’s prison population far outpaces the increase in the general population.

Experts attribute the growth nationwide to the harshness of drug laws, a trend to give prison time for other convictions and the fact that inmates are more likely to serve longer sentences. Nearly half the inmates in this country are doing time for drug offenses.

The numbers are inescapable, and not without a noticable effect…

With so many people in prison, neighborhoods are losing the cohesion that provides an effective barrier against crime. The problem is fueled by the dead-end fate awaiting recently released convicts, who struggle to find jobs and re-establish family connections. Frustrated, many turn to crime again.

…leading to the inevitable conclusion…

But a smarter approach would look at the policies that have put so many behind bars. Mandatory sentencing laws that strip discretion from judges are a dismal failure, sending people to prison for relatively minor crimes at massive public expense. The nation’s drug laws are a shambles, assessing arbitrary penalties that hit hardest at low-income criminals who use inexpensive, highly addictive street drugs like crack cocaine. Most prison programs aimed at rehabilitation have fallen victim to budget cuts or political posturing.

The growing prison numbers — and public expense — show that this is a course the United States can no longer afford to follow.

Exactly.

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