U.S. Prison Population – We’re Doing Something Wrong

I’ve been aware that we lead the world in percentage of citizens incarcerated, but it didn’t hit home until I saw the picture associated with an article about how the State of California will reduce it’s prison population by filtering many of them into the regular population and to county jails. Somehow that picture, which I could lease from Getty Images but only for 90 days, of five men, mostly black I think, waiting in a small cage just makes me ashamed I’m an American. Or more to the point that I’ve allowed myself to be largely unconscious and inactive about this issue. And there are more cages in the hall, including another with people in it.

We’re doing something wrong.

Of course, I have no idea what this particular group of prisoners is incarcerated for. My guess that they’re probably relatively non-violent is based on seeing the single cages which, I suspect, are for the one’s judged truly violent.

When I read this from Wikipedia and other sources

The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. At year-end 2009 it was 743 adults incarcerated per 100,000 population.[2][3][4][5][6]

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) 2,292,133 adults were incarcerated in U.S. federal and state prisons, and county jails at year-end 2009 — about 1% of adults in the U.S. resident population.[2][3][7][8] Additionally, 4,933,667 adults at year-end 2009 were on probation or on parole.[2] In total, 7,225,800 adults were under correctional supervision (probation, parole, jail, or prison) in 2009 — about 3.1% of adults in the U.S. resident population.”[1][2][9] In addition, there were 86,927 juveniles in juvenile detention in 2007.[10][11]

I’m even more convinced we’re doing something wrong.

My sense is that non-white prisoners are in the vast majority, but the actual numbers are controversial. None-the-less my sense is accurate.

We are doing something wrong.

I don’t know what the problem is, or more likely, the problems.

I do suspect that our war on drugs is a total failure and only supports prison employment and construction. DrugSense states that The U.S. federal government spent over $15 billion dollars in 2010 on the War on Drugs, at a rate of about $500 per second. I’m convinced we could find better ways to spend that money and probably reduce drug use in the process.

The Economist posted an article called Too many laws, too many prisoners in 2010. It’s a horrifying story and the balance of the article points out just how out of wack our so-called justice system really is.

And I’m not even going to get into the death penalty today.

We need to start asking questions. We need to start speaking out. We need to have a real conversation about what we mean by justice and what we’re trying to accomplish with imprisonment and when it’s appropriate and when it’s not.

What’s your reaction to these statistics? What will you do about it? I’m going to contact my congress people.

Love and blessings,

Anne Wayman: When Grandmother Speaks

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

cyndy May 18, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Are we to believe the high rate of imprisonment is an accident, that Americans are by nature felonious? Maybe we should consider what the prison-industrial complex stands to gain by, say, the war on drugs. A large chunk of the U.S. population, having been labeled as “criminals,” stands to lose a lot — not the least of which, in many states, includes the right to vote. Meanwhile, with the move toward privatized prisons, a handful of people are making much money from such services as housing, health care and food service. And we mustn’t forget the added bonus of cheap (slave) labor provided by convicts. Maybe I’m just becoming a paranoid conspiracy theorist. Or maybe not. . . .

annew November 20, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Cyndy, I don’t think you’re a conspiracy theorist… the privatization of our prison system is just another way we can distance ourselves from what’s really happening. The ACLU has an interesting page on the subject – http://www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/private-prisons

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