29 May 2009

Senator Webb's Parade Article

I came across this article on prison reform over at Comrade Kevin's site. In the following excerpt, the Sentator Jim Webb compares Japan and the U.S. The differences are startling:

We need to fix the system. Doing so will require a major nationwide recalculation of who goes to prison and for how long and of how we address the long-term consequences of incarceration. Twenty-five years ago, I went to Japan on assignment for PARADE to write a story on that country's prison system. In 1984, Japan had a population half the size of ours and was incarcerating 40,000 sentenced offenders, compared with 580,000 in the United States. As shocking as that disparity was, the difference between the countries now is even more astounding--and profoundly disturbing. Since then, Japan's prison population has not quite doubled to 71,000, while ours has quadrupled to 2.3 million. The United States has by far the world's highest incarceration rate. With 5% of the world's population, our country now houses nearly 25% of the world's reported prisoners. We currently incarcerate 756 inmates per 100,000 residents, a rate nearly five times the average worldwide of 158 for every 100,000. In addition, more than 5 million people who recently left jail remain under "correctional supervision," which includes parole, probation, and other community sanctions. All told, about one in every 31 adults in the United States is in prison, in jail, or on supervised release. This all comes at a very high price to taxpayers: Local, state, and federal spending on corrections adds up to about $68 billion a year.

The Senator points out that much of the prison population is there for petty offenses:

Justice statistics also show that 47.5% of all the drug arrests in our country in 2007 were for marijuana offenses. Additionally, nearly 60% of the people in state prisons serving time for a drug offense had no history of violence or of any significant selling activity. Indeed, four out of five drug arrests were for possession of illegal substances, while only one out of five was for sales. Three-quarters of the drug offenders in our state prisons were there for nonviolent or purely drug offenses. And although experts have found little statistical difference among racial groups regarding actual drug use, African-Americans--who make up about 12% of the total U.S. population--accounted for 37% of those arrested on drug charges, 59% of those convicted, and 74% of all drug offenders sentenced to prison.

I think a good argument can be made for the complete legalization of drugs, allowing law enforcement to focus on the few people who are truly violent and need to be removed from society.

6 comments:

PENolan said...

Karlo - those folks would vote for Democrats if they weren't in jail. Everyone knows you need to take away the voting rights of the disenfranchised in order to assure the election of Conservative Christian Right Wing Republican Straight White Americans. I heard about it when Manning Marble was talking at Riverside Church here in NYC after Bush stole the election for the second time.

Then I heard from some other smart fellow about how corporate farmers absolutely don't want hemp to be a legal, cash crop - not because of weed but because of cotton and paper products.

Karlo said...

I don't know how many of the jailed would actually vote. I think the biggest factor is that there's an underlying philosophy that the long arm of the state has to be strong. I'm discouraged when I think that instead of getting free healtcare, I'm paying to house some inmate somewhere who was found with a bag of weed in his glove-box.

Sanshinseon said...

Right On, Karlo -- i'm totally with you on this issue, and it means a lot to me. That one step could help both economy and society, and ameliorate a few of the entire world's problems...

Vancouver Voyeur said...

Wow, stunning statistics. We're obviously doing a great number of things wrong. Working in the court system as I do, I see the racial disparity on a daily basis. Also having been the victim of a couple of property crimes in the last year, the black fellow, they threw the book at him; the white guys, "they're were just flexing their alcohol muscles" and I was treated like a lunatic because I wanted to prosecute the white guys just like the black guy was.

libhom said...

America is losing the War on Some Drugs merely by fighting it.

Ole Blue The Heretic said...

Excellent post. I agree that the War on some drugs is an idiotic endeavor.