I’m returning briefly to wish you all a very happy 2009 and to post, what I think is, an important article in the Washinton Post about Sen. Jim Webb’s plan to introduce reform of the US prison system.
I have to say AMEN! Not sure how far this will go but it’s long overdue. Just the fact that this might receive some attention is a major step forward. The article summarizes the problem pretty well.
With 2.3 million people behind bars, the United States has imprisoned a higher percentage of its population than any other nation, according to the Pew Center on the States and other groups. Although the United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population, it has 25 percent of its prison population, Webb says.
A disproportionate number of those who are incarcerated are black, Webb notes. African Americans make up 13 percent of the population, but they comprise more than half of all prison inmates, compared with one-third two decades ago. Today, Webb says, a black man without a high school diploma has a 60 percent chance of going to prison.
Webb aims much of his criticism at enforcement efforts that he says too often target low-level drug offenders and parole violators, rather than those who perpetrate violence, such as gang members. He also blames policies that strip felons of citizenship rights and can hinder their chances of finding a job after release. He says he believes society can be made safer while making the system more humane and cost-effective.
You say there are many more important issues and I probably agree but this one does not need to be swept under the rug. How we deal with it may be a sign of how our culture moves forward in this century.
UPDATE: The January 1, New York Times has an editorial supporting this corrageous move by Sen. Web. Let’s hope his actions are echoed by more Senators and that the support for this effort grows.
This country puts too many people behind bars for too long. Most elected officials, afraid of being tarred as soft on crime, ignore these problems. Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat of Virginia, is now courageously stepping into the void, calling for a national commission to re-assess criminal justice policy. Other members of Congress should show the same courage and rally to the cause.
Many inmates are serving long sentences for nonviolent crimes, including minor drug offenses. It also is extraordinarily expensive. Billions of dollars now being spent on prisons each year could be used in far more socially productive ways.
Senator Webb — a former Marine and secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration — is in many ways an unlikely person to champion criminal justice reform. But his background makes him an especially effective advocate for a cause that has often been associated with liberals and academics.