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."

Quote from:
Robert Gangi, director of the Correctional Association of New York (source: Jill Molowe, ‘Time’ Feb 7th, 1994) article ‘…and throw away the key’.

Note: Unfortunately, we have had to block the comments on the blog for the time being, due to inappropriate material being posted in a comment, which has nothing whatsoever to do with Jon. If you have a comment on the above please send it to Jon's email address, in his favourites at the top of the Home Page and we will post it for you. Sorry for the inconvenience and thanks again for your continued support.


Anonymous said...

Interesting entry... I couldn't agree more that the American penal system needs a rethink; as with much of the American way of life it seems to be a juggernaut that only gains speed under the weight of its own momentum... a solution, which is in fact creating its own problem. The obvious (locking up baddies) apparently does not work so some imaginative alternatives are going to be needed. I find it curious that in a religious nation there isn’t anyone (read any politician) willing to invest "faith" in a more humane approach. Therein lies the problem I suspect; who wants to be the one to experiment with bringing the high crime/recidivism rate down? Whilst failure could hardly make things worse in terms of the crime rate "Mr Daring Politician" would suddenly be the one to blame.. and meanwhile the American public would have been denied the pound of flesh it has been habituated to receive.

I was interested by the "community justice" idea but wonder if it would be a successful transplant given that it relies on the strong social network of Japan... can you really transpose that into Big City America where you are lucky to know your neighbours name never mind give a damn what he thinks? And where so many of those committing the crimes are so far alienated from those kinds of ties?

All the best,

Anonymous said...

This experience - hard as it is - is already the making of you, because it has focused your mind, and opened your eyes, in a way that ordinary everyday experiences cannot. This is a fear-based world, and structures that feed on fear, must of necessity see that fear is continuously recycled in order to feel that they are still 'in control'. The wastage in terms of human life is of no consequence to them. It is, however, to you.

You are a teacher who has been placed where he is needed, and you are serving laws higher than those that imprison you. The very exercises you do, are exercises that develop mind and body to open to what I call the Spirit of Man.

The music you enjoyed - trance and tribal music - provided opportunity for many to experience an open-ness and togetherness that mainstream society completely lacks.

The mainstream fears what you represent, and rightly so, because the rising conscious awareness of the our common heritage as spiritual beings is manifesting itself daily on the internet.

The net itself is simply a physical representation of what in fact has always existed - the linking together of human minds.

It has been the fear-based structures that have taught fear and division, and the pages of history are littered with their work.

I know with certainty that you will find deep happiness serving the path you have chosen.

Your love and forgiveness speak volumes for you, and will inspire those around you, for that is your purpose.

You have the ability to teach those around you, prisoners and warders ( for both are captives ), and you will find that they, in turn, will teach you.

> Plymouth, UK.

Anonymous said...

Saw your site mentioned in the BBC. I am very surprised that the America has "drug gulags" like this and that Amnesty or someone is not drawing attention to it. When Solzhenitsyn wrote about sick, starving, poorly-dressed men being forced to labour in -20 temperatures the world was outraged. Minus 20 or 120, the concept is the same, the gulag is a barbaric, evil and oppressive offense to all of humanity.
I think you should make very detailed notes about the prison guards involved, their names and ranks, descriptions of them including things that don't fade, like scars or tattoos, whether they act under authority/orders, who they report to, and the names
of witnesses to any acts of brutality. It may take years or decades to get these people into court and memories will fade, but even old nazi guards are still being brought to justice 60-70 years later. The guards and authorities running these places have
to know that they WILL be hunted down in later years and made to face the people they abused.
I can't help feel that a white, articulate, well educated person like you is where you are by destiny for the purpose of bearing witness. Write a GREAT book about your experiences, a classic that'll reverberate like, "A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich."
The nobel is worth a million bucks after all, and the film rights arewaiting...Shawshank redemption here you come.>>>
Good luck to you

Anonymous said...

Not sure if you are overwhelmed by offers of support, or every one thinks that everyone else is doing it.

I have enjoyed reading your biog, much more entertaining than Archer. I have bought three books for him (well for me, but he got the benefit), if there is a book I can buy, please let me know.

Good luck


Anonymous said...

Mr Greg said...
I reckon I could probably take this Barbarian chap in a fight. Man to Man. Bare knuckles. I'd focus on his gammy leg, I reckon.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jon,
I have grave doubts about whether the system in Japan could work in America, as the societies differ so greatly. The Japanese have a great sense of honour and committing a crime is a disgrace on the family. American society is too polarised with the rich at one end and the disadvantaged poor at the other, and with the recent election results the gap will get wider.
Would love to hear any further thoughts you have on this subject.