When I started travel blogging, I neglected old haunts and activities. The Alameda County Deputy Sheriffs Archive Association is a powerful pull for me and I was grateful to be home in time for the March meeting. Instead of comptometers, teletypes and adding machines, we have electronic gadgets of superior performance that replace them. The jail I knew was a friendly place instead of a lock down prison as it is today. Much has changed. One officer told me: “This place is probably safer for both officer and inmate, but it has no soul.”
I’m going to cite some simple facts about incarceration today just as food for thought.
The United States has earned the distinction of being the world’s largest jailer, ahead of China and Russia. With 5 percent of the world’s population, we have 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.
We have well over 2 million people in prison. Two million people not working, not supporting their children and living off the taxpayers for their room, board, and medical care. And, they are enduring mandatory longer sentences so we will be caring for them much longer than any danger they can present to society. We also render them “non citizens” who cannot participate in our democracy, who because of stigma, can no longer work or be productive without draconian effort if and when they do get out.
Mandatory sentencing, War on Drugs, Tough On Crime, Three Strikes Your Out, all political sound bites turned into hard legislation, have done little to protect the public. We now have overcrowded prisons burdening taxpayers.
White Americans commit crimes at the same rates as people of color. Biased enforcement and sentencing make a disproportionate number of Blacks and Latinos pay the price. One in nine young black men (age 20-34) is behind bars.
Nearly half of all state prisoners are locked up for nonviolent offenses. We are seeing a resurgence of debtors prisons. Thousands of people are jailed because they are two poor to pay fines for traffic tickets or other misdemeanors.
The U.S. Prison population rose by 700% from 1970-2005, outpacing the general population rate and the crime rate.
Spending on incarceration in 2007 was $44 billion rising 127% from 1987. In that same period of time spending on education rose 21%.
Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo, as promised, has implications far beyond the fate of men detained in prison. Indefinite detention is an erosion in our personal liberties, and our American values.
I don’t pretend to know the answer. I know it alarms me.