August 26, 2002

Prison Nation

The former "Land of the Free" now leads the world in the number of its citizens it incarcerates.(see From Crowded U.S. Prisons Comes Unwieldy Problem in Yahoo! News) It's a great statistic for the privatizers of the prison system, not much good for the quality of life of the rest of us. While US "leaders" habitually babble about the human rights lapses in countries like China, the maintenance of this "free society" is dependent on locking up a greater portion of its population behind bars than any other country in the world.

According to the Reuters report, "U.S. incarceration rates, at 690 convicts per 100,000, now top even those in Russia, which once led the world with its rate of incarcerating 676 of every 100,000 people, according to the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit criminal justice policy analysis group."

Locking people up satisfies the punitive medieval mentality of the fundamentalist right wing, but has little practical value from a whole systems point of view and creates consequences undreamed of by the authors of the laws. For example, "Men and women, in numbers greater than the population of the United States's capital city, are freed from America's crowded prisons every year. Most of them have had little preparation for life outside prison and end up in communities that offer little guidance. And many -- between 40 percent and 65 percent, depending on how recidivism is measured -- end right back in prison."

Time for the US to begin the long, hard climb out of the 16th century.

-- By David Cogswell

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