Tied to the mast
…but orange now and black

Webb raps justice reform

Speaking of people in cages (yes yes, I realize that not being able to visit my grandmother next weekend for visa reasons doesn’t exactly put me in a cage), Webb gives you the business on the need for criminal justice reform in America:

  • The United States has 5% of the world’s population, yet possesses 25% of the world’s prison population;
  • More than 2.38 million Americans are now in prison, and another 5 million remain on probation or parole. That amounts to 1 in every 31 adults in the United States is in prison, in jail, or on supervised release;
  • Incarcerated drug offenders have soared 1200% since 1980, up from 41,000 to 500,000 in 2008; and
  • 60% of offenders are arrested for non-violent offensives–many driven by mental illness or drug addiction.

Webb’s todo:

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009. This legislation, which I originally introduced in March, creates a Presidential level blue-ribbon commission charged with conducting an 18-month, top-to-bottom review of our nation’s entire criminal justice system, ultimately providing the Congress with specific, concrete recommendations for reform.

The goal of this legislation is nothing less than a complete restructuring of the criminal justice system in the United States. Only an outside commission, properly structured and charged, can bring us complete findings necessary to do so.

Question: How fast do you think the question is going to come up of  whether rationalizing the justice system will result in a net benefit or loss to the general economy (defined in narrow, monetary terms)?

Actually, I retract that… the questions will have nothing to do with “net” anything. It’ll be all about the anecdotes. We’ll see headlines like “Prison Closes in Michigan, Further Decimates Already Decimated Town.” Or commercials of idyllic families (palely ethnic to immunize them against charges of racism) eating breakfast as the mail is delivered. Picking up the stack of envelopes, the prison guard father realizes one is his notice of termination… Flash to the family, six months later, living in a van in front of their foreclosed house… garden faded, gutters flooded… Flash to scary black person in street clothes staring threateningly into the camera (or something marginally more subtle but relaying the same message).

It would be really sad if bullshit like that trumped concern for real justice… the thing that is problematized in Webb’s stats and the real testimonies (available here) presented to the committee yesterday.

As a counterpoint, the Netherlands (to which people travel in order to do drugs), from a few weeks ago in the NRC Handelsblad:

The Dutch justice ministry has announced it will close eight prisons and cut 1,200 jobs in the prison system. A decline in crime has left many cells empty.

During the 1990s the Netherlands faced a shortage of prison cells, but a decline in crime has since led to overcapacity in the prison system. The country now has capacity for 14,000 prisoners but only 12,000 detainees.

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