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What does it take to reverse our incarceration nation?

The excellent Peter Moskos points out the absurdity of our criminal justice system by suggesting we bring back the whip.

Suggest adding the whipping post to America’s system of criminal justice and most people recoil in horror. But offer a choice between five years in prison or 10 lashes and almost everybody picks the lash. What does that say about prison?

America has a prison problem. Never in the history of the world has a country locked up so many of its people. We have more prisons than China, and it has a billion more people than we do. Forty years ago America had 338,000 people behind bars. Today 2.3 million are incarcerated. We have more prisoners than soldiers. Something has gone terribly wrong.

The problem — mostly due to longer and mandatory sentences combined with an idiotic war on drugs — is so abysmal that the Supreme Court recently ordered 33,000 prisoners in California to be housed elsewhere or released.

He points out that, except in the cases of the truly dangerous, incarceration makes things worse, not better.

Incarceration not only fails to deter crime but in many ways can increase it. For crime driven by economic demand, such as drug dealing, arresting one seller creates a job opening for others, who might fight over the vacant position.

Incarceration destroys families and jobs, exactly what people need to have in order to stay away from crime. Incarcerated criminals are more likely to reoffend than similar people given alternative sentences. To break the cycle of crime, people need help. And they would need less help if they were never incarcerated in the first place.

It really says something about the depth of the abject failure of our incarceration nation when flogging actually sounds like a welcome and smart alternative.

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17 comments to What does it take to reverse our incarceration nation?

  • it's too far gone but the discussion is worthwhile

    End prohibition of marijuana, end private for profit prisons, end black uniform (SS)/swat militarized police forces serving misdemeanor drug warrants, end mandatory minimum sentences.

  • Steve

    How we came to the point of not only allowing “for profit prisons” let alone allowing them to be publicly traded companies, I can’t begin to understand…I would love to see a study on the number of prisoners before these prisons came into being versus after…the conflict of interest is so blatant it makes me nauseous

  • Dante

    What does it take?

    The dis-empowerment (is that a word?) of those currently in power who profit from the continuation of the War on Drugs.

    It’s hard to pull the plug on those guarding the plug with machine guns, tanks and artillery.

  • Capo

    As I get older I am starting to question the entire concept of prison. When it comes to violence, it seems perfectly reasonable to lock someone away who might hurt someone.

    But we give away years in prison as a punishment for so many different types of crime now, and especially non violent crime, and what is the use? Does the incarcerated really learn their lesson? And what lesson is that exactly when we are sending people away for just doing things we might not like, or might think are immoral. If an individual’s moral compass says that using drugs is not wrong, and get sent to prison for it, do they ever come out thinking to themselves “Gee, I see the light now. Those 5 lost years of hell really helped me get back to the straight and narrow.”

    • aussidawg

      Capo, you have the right idea, but you haven’t taken into consideration the problems caused by imprisoning a non-violent drug “offender” with violent gang bangers, child molesters, rapists, murderers, armed robbers, etc.

      Of course thse folks are going to reofffend. Fuck, I would! Just to get even with a system that calls itself “Christian” and demeans other countries for their human rights abuses while doing the same or worse to it’s own citizens.

      The Scandinavian countries such as Denmark have a maximum prison sentence of 25 years for even the most violent of offenders. In lieu of punishment, they treat them as humans that somewhere along the line have had a major disruptor to life. Their recidivison rate is minuscile, especially when compared to the “land of the free.”

      But of course we are a nation founded under “Christianity.” While one would assume that a Christian nation would be quite forgiving (while also recognizing that many if not most of the founders were Diests, NOT Christians), quite to the contrary, we have a punish the motherfuckers to death attitude.

      As Gandhi said: “I like your Christ. I don’t like your Christians, they are so unlike your Christ.”

  • antifascist

    The WoD is Nixon’s personal vengeance against all the good people who opposed his Vietnam war. It was secretly engineered and passed behind closed doors in the early hours of the morning while everyone was asleep so that nobody could oppose its passage and it has targeted and destroyed the lives of more left-wing Americans than any other war in the history of America. Nixon is laughing in his grave. We should make him spin until his ugly carcass burns to ashes.

  • tintguy

    Our “leaders” to care about the problem. But they don’t and prob’ly never will because most of them profit from it. Welcome to the System; go with the flow or be laid to waste.

    • denmark

      All of this is rather discouraging at times. In addition it’s a real piss-off to be ignored by government repeatedly. More “important things to think about” just doesn’t fly anymore.

  • Richie

    People truly learn from their mistakes while in prison and become better criminals. Like in the movie “Blow”, George Jung first went to prison for smuggling pot, and while there he met Carlos Lehder who got him a job smuggling cocaine for Pablo Escobar!

  • strayan

    It’s possible that Ireland still holds the record for locking up more of its citizens per capita than anywhere else in the world:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jun/08/irealnd-magdalene-laundries-scandal-un

  • Paul

    I’m worried we’ve gone past the point of no return with the industrial prison complex. Can it really be stopped? Or is it already too powerful? What happens when they realize that they are the ones truly in charge?

  • Jimmy Carter weighs in, NY Times:

    Call off the Global WOD

    These recommendations are compatible with United States drug policy from
    three decades ago. In a message to Congress in 1977, I said the country should decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, with a full program of treatment for addicts. I also cautioned against filling our prisons with young people who were no threat to society, and summarized by saying: “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself.”

    These ideas were widely accepted at the time. But in the 1980s President Ronald Reagan and Congress began to shift from balanced drug policies, including the treatment and rehabilitation of addicts, toward futile efforts to control drug imports from foreign countries.

    I’m beginning to think we’re in a hard hat zone folks! Danger, falling bricks ahead…

    • Duncan20903

      I have a vivid memory of the day when Mr. Carter made that statement in 1977.

      I think it’s one of the most significant reasons why those who think re-legalization is impossible because of the entrenched private interests. Back in that day there wasn’t anyone that I knew who didn’t believe re-legalization was a foregone conclusion, and that would include myself. I really do understand the feeling but I can still find significant differences between now and then which make it a much better chance of happening today. The 46% support of the public vs the ~30% back in 1977 being the most significant difference. It did slip through our fingers back then but that doesn’t mean it will do so every time we get our grasp on it.

      BTW the first time I got high was on 7/1/2011 so I’m coming up on my 34th anniversary. I was already enjoying cannabis when most of today’s (admitted) potheads were nothing but dirty thoughts in their Dad’s head.

  • Windy

    Repeating myself from another thread (and STDW):
    Perhaps it is time we reformers join as a class to sue the federal government, NIDA, ONDCP, DEA, FDA and any other agencies connected with the drug war in a class action lawsuit for lying to the representatives of the American people (and therefore, to the American people) about this herb. Anyone know of a law firm willing to take on something like this? The publicity for any such law firm would be massive, and if they won, the law firm could pretty much write it’s own ticket for the rest of its existence. It seems to me to be a much more lucrative, not to mention important, lawsuit than most class action suits, and maybe we could throw in the charges of libel and slander of the herb and those who use it, since they defame us and the herb in both written and spoken forms.

  • palemalemarcher

    Suffice to say, ONDCP especially seemed to weasel their way onto advertising on progressive outlets such as WEBD and Air-america, pro-bono!