Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sen Webb And Criminal Justice

Sen Jim Webb (VA-D) is pretty sure we need to do something about our system of criminal justice and he lays out some reasons why he's right.
With 5% of the world's population, our country now houses 25% of the world's reported prisoners.

Incarcerated drug offenders have soared 1200% since 1980.

Four times as many mentally ill people are in prisons than in mental health hospitals.

Approximately 1 million gang members reside in the U.S., many of them foreign-based; and Mexican cartels operate in 230+ communities across the country.

Post-incarceration re-entry programs are haphazard and often nonexistent, undermining public safety and making it extremely difficult for ex-offenders to become full, contributing members of society.

It has been fashionable for Republicans to claim Democrats and other liberal types are soft on crime but these kinds of numbers and facts seem to make a case that the hardliners may have made some mistakes. While crime rate drops matched the aging of the population they didn't seem to have squat to do with draconian punishments. We are closing on a situation of putting nearly an entire generation of black males in prison. If you consider our 25% of the world's prison population with 5% of the population you would have to decide that either we have most of the world's bad people or we are doing something radically wrong - I'm not exactly sold on the bad people proposition.

S714 would establish the National Criminal Justice Commission to look at what the failures are in law and sentencing and to look to other systems for solutions. The numbers are astonishingly bad and point to failure of monumental proportions. 2.38M people are in prison, 32% of black males will be imprisoned in their lifetime, one in 31 people are either in prison, on parole or probation a 290% increase since 1980. Having 3/4 million people returning to their communities from prison annually can only mean trouble and on average 2 of 3 will be rearrested and half will return to prison within 3 years. The War on Drugs is not only grammatically stupid, it is also an abysmal failure, the percentage of high school students reporting a drug is "very easy" or "fairly easy" to obtain marijuana ranked 86%, cocaine 47%, crack 39%, and heroin 27% in the face of a 1200% increase in prison population since 1980 of drug offenders.

We are bankrupting the government with prison costs and evidently failing across the board with the system. Granted that while commissions are a good way to bury problems they can also be formative of solutions when there is little political benefit to using one as a burial ground. Maybe some pressure to not only establish this committee but also do something with it wouldn't be misplaced. Along with Webb are Specter, Reid, Leahy, Durbin, Graham, Schumer, Murray, Wyden, Kennedy, Brown, Warner, Gillibrand, McCaskill, Cardin, and Burris; if your Senator is missing a note of suggestion might be in order.


ThePoliticalCat said...

Good idea, Chuck. The more I see/hear/know of Jim Webb, the more I like him. Needless to say, the exact opposite holds true for most of his fellow-senators.

One Fly said...

Obama chuckling about legalization shows he doesn't intend to touch this.

Kevin said...

I strongly concur with your assessment of the problem. When "the land of the free" inprison a higher percentage of our own population than any other nation on the planet something is fundamentally broken and needs to be critically examined, sooner rather than later.

Personally, I think that rehabilitation has long gotten the short end of the stick in favor of good ol' fashioned punishment. While it may make us FEEL good to punish people, if that's not an effective deterent than aren't we really just cutting off our noses to spite our faces?

Punishment has it's role, to be sure. But it's clearly not working very well and the citizenry clearly aren't willing to fund enough prisons and infrastructure to cope with that result.

Zak Johnson said...

Putting folks in prison for non-violent behavior in which the only victim is themselves is counterproductive and clearly leads to more crime and broken lives. Comparing the number of deaths from alcohol consumption versus the number from pot smoking is another statistic that shows how misaligned our priorities are.