Welcome to the USA -- home of 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's prison population! It's hard to believe but our "sweet land of liberty" has incarcerated more people than those repressive countries like Russia, China or Iran! Are we really that bad or is there something else involved?
In 1980 there were about 300,000 people in prison; now there are more than two million prisoners. In only 30 years our prisoners have increased by five times. The sudden increase in our prison population began with the declaration of our "war on drugs" which, amazingly, was declared in 1982 as drug usage was decreasing. This war brought the enactment of new mandatory sentencing laws, overcrowding of prisons and the influx of private prisons.
Presently there are five corporations that maintain prisons. The largest are CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) and GEO. Both corporations have been members of ALEC (American Legislative Executive Council), the group that puts legislators and lobbyists together in order to pass legislation that will help the corporation's bottom line. Is it any wonder that in spite of the fluctuations of crime rate, the prison population has continually soared? There are more people in prison for drug offenses now than there were for all offenses in 1980. Today there are more than seven million under government supervision but only 1.5 million are in prison; the others are in jail, on probation or parole.
Nationally we spend a minimum of $20,000 per prisoner a year on incarceration; we have spent a trillion dollars since the beginning of our war on drugs. Since the majority of the crimes were of simple possession of drugs and were nonviolent, wouldn't it have been smarter to invest in drug treatment, education and jobs? Three Republican governors, Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, Chris Christie of New Jersey and John Kasich of Ohio have come to the conclusion that rehabilitation makes more sense and is cheaper while Govs. John Lynch of New Hampshire and Rick Scott of Florida are doubling down on private prisons.
Barbara M. Edwards