America: A Prison Nation Where Just About Every Human Activity is Criminalized

August 13, 2012   |  

The state represents violence in a concentrated and organized form. The individual has a soul, but as the state is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from violence to which it owes its very existence.” – Mahatma Mohandas K. Gandhi

In theory, the only reason a criminal justice system should even exist is to facilitate justice for victims of crimes.  In reality, the criminal justice system is nothing more a hugely expensive statist enterprise that generates revenues for the government and the increasingly privatized prison industry while providing a guarantee of job security for police and prison guard unions.

A truly just criminal justice system works like this: No victim, No crime

According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, America, with a population of 310 million, has over 2.2 million folks in prison and China, a nation with a population of 1.3 billion, has far less folks in prison.

1. United States of America 2,266,832
2. China 1,640,000
3. Russian Federation 738,400
4. Brazil 514,582
5. India 368,998

Why do we have so many folks locked up? Is America just a more crime ridden and violent place than other nations?  Is crime actually escalating?   According to the New York Times, “The number of violent crimes in the United States dropped significantly last year, to what appeared to be the lowest rate in nearly 40 years…”

If violent crime has been significantly dropping in the US for 40 years, then why are so many folks in prison and why is the US prison population exploding?  It makes no sense.  But our jails and prison systems are overflowing with folks who shouldn’t even be in prison.  Many folks are definitely rotting in prison for possession of marijuana and other victimless or minor crimes.

The cost of a nation of incarceration

A report by the organization, “The Price of Prisons,” states that the cost of incarcerating one inmate in Fiscal 2010 was $31,307 per year. “In states like Connecticut, Washington state, New York, it’s anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000,” he said.

Yes – $60,000 a year. That’s a teacher’s salary, or a firefighter’s. Our epidemic of incarceration costs us taxpayers $63.4 billion a year.

The explosion in incarceration began in the early 1970s…

Americans are a people obsessed with ‘there ought to be a law’ and they routinely rant and rave to outlaw everything they don’t personally approve of. The cost of the criminalization of human behavioral choices like smoking pot or prostitution is far greater than the cost of maintaining the prison industrial complex.  The social costs are devastating.  Families are broken up, separated and they suffer greatly when a breadwinner is imprisoned for a victimless crime. When folks are finally sprung from prison, they can’t get a job because of their criminal record and this typically drives them into desperation that includes committing real crimes.

Prison Math

Housing nonviolent, victimless offenders with violent criminals for years on end can’t possibly help them reintegrate into society, which helps explain why four out of 10 released prisoners end up back in jail within three years of their release.

As the Harvard sociologist Bruce Western and the University of Washington sociologist Becky Pettit showed in a 2010 study published by the Pew Center on the States, incarceration has a lasting impact on men’s earnings. Taking age, education, school enrollment, and geography into account, they found that past incarceration reduced subsequent wages by 11 percent, cut annual employment by nine weeks, and reduced yearly earnings by 40 percent. Only 2 percent of previously incarcerated men who started in the bottom fifth of the earnings distribution made it to the top fifth 20 years later, compared to 15 percent of never-incarcerated men who started at the bottom.

It isn’t just offenders whose lives are damaged. Western and Pettit note that 54 percent of inmates are parents with minor children, including more than 120,000 mothers and 1.1 million fathers. One in every 28 children has a parent incarcerated, up from 1 in 125 just 25 years ago. Two-thirds of these children’s parents were incarcerated for nonviolent offenses.

Over a period of 40 years, we’ve spend over $1 trillion dollars on the idiotic War on Drugs, here and CNN reported that Marijuana laws just creates criminals.

It’s time for America to rethinks its criminal justice system and restore it to what it’s supposed to be – prosecuting and locking up dangerous criminals who are truly harmful to society while decriminalizing victimless crimes and personal behavioral choices that do not create victims.

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