15 Oct 04
A solution to prison overcrowding?
Per capita, the US prison population is the largest in the world. Is this because our American cousins are bent on committing more crimes than people in other countries? Hardly!
In America a policy of stiff prison sentences has been adopted, purportedly to reduce crime. Has it worked? No: crime and incarceration statistics do not support the rationale. So what is really going on and why are the illogical policies being continued? Probably, because billions of dollars of taxpayers’ contributions are being transferred to the beneficiaries of the mass-incarceration program.
There is now more money being spent on housing inmates in America than there is being spent on education. It costs taxpayers over $500,000 to house an inmate for 20 years. The attorney gold rush (which I will deal with in a future blog) is systematically vacuuming up increasing portions of the wealth of society. These parasites are not protecting society from hardened criminals: according to the book ‘You Are Being Lied To’, there are more people serving time in US prisons for marijuana charges alone than the entire prison population of Europe. According to Department of Justice figures in the Wall Street Journal, 1 in 75 men – an all time high – are now in prison and the inmate population increased 2.9% to a new record. Not only are the desired effects not being achieved, but the reverse is happening: the prisons are tantamount to schools for unlawfulness, where young men are hardened and criminally come of age.
The purpose of me emphasising this situation is not purely a fault-finding one. It is easy to knock a bad situation, but it is more difficult to come up with workable suggestions, especially for this complex problem. However, with my limited knowledge and experience on the subject, I will endeavour to offer an alternative to mass imprisonment.
Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world and only 5% of people convicted of crimes serve time versus 30% in America. The Japanese use a policy called reintegrative shaming. This involves the criminal appearing in court with family members, friends, bosses, and coworkers, etc who condemn the individual’s behaviour. The people forming this community-support structure then accept responsibility for reintegrating the offender back into society. This way, social bonds are rebuilt and further criminal acts are deterred. A voluntary network of over 500,000 local crime prevention associations help the reintegration process and the
criminal-justice system is encouraged to be lenient for this purpose. This policy has worked.
The American public, who are footing the bill for ineffective policies, should consider demanding a shift towards a system that works. The Japanese gave the American auto manufacturers a wakeup call. It seems that they have another successful idea with reintegrative shaming.
The captains of the various industries profiteering from this disguised modern-day slavery ought to be ashamed of themselves: they have reduced the land of the free to a police state. If the public does not take a stand, then soon, every single one of us will have a family member or a friend gobbled up by this system.
“Building more prisons to address crime is like building more graveyards to address a fatal disease."
Robert Gangi, director of the Correctional Association of New York (source: Jill Molowe, ‘Time’ Feb 7th, 1994) article ‘…and throw away the key’.
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