Friday, January 09, 2015

From a Koch brother: Sane prison policy and poverty

[Possibly things can change for the better!  After you read this, tell me what you think.]

The Overcriminalization of America
How to reduce poverty and improve race relations by rethinking our justice system.
As Americans, we like to believe the rule of law in our country is respected and fairly applied, and that only those who commit crimes of fraud or violence are punished and imprisoned.  But the reality is often different. It is surprisingly easy for otherwise law-abiding citizens to run afoul of the overwhelming number of federal and state criminal laws. This proliferation is sometimes referred to as “overcriminalization,”which affects us all, but most profoundly harms our disadvantaged citizens.
Overcriminalization has led to the mass incarceration of those ensnared by our criminal justice system, even though such imprisonment does not always enhance public safety.  Indeed, more than half of federal inmates are nonviolent drug offenders.  Enforcing so many victimless crimes inevitably leads to conflict between our citizens and law enforcement.  As we have seen all too often, it can place our police officers in harm’s way, leading to tragic consequences for all involved.

How did we get in this situation?  It began with well-intentioned lawmakers who went overboard trying to solve perceived or actual problems.  Congress creates, on average, more than 50 new criminal laws each year.  Over  time, this has translated into more than 4,500 federal criminal laws spread across 27,000 pages of the United States federal code.  (This number does not include the thousands of criminal penalties in federal regulations.)  As a result, the United States is the world’s largest jailer — first in the world for total number imprisoned and first among industrialized nations in the rate of incarceration.  The United States represents about 5 percent of the world's population, but houses around 25 percent of the world's prisoners.
We have paid a heavy price for mass incarceration and could benefit by reversing this trend.  It has been estimated that at least 53 percent of those entering prison were living at or below the U.S. poverty line when their sentence began. Incarceration leads to a 40 percent decrease in annual earnings, reduced job tenure and higher unemployment.  A Pew Charitable Trust study revealed that two-thirds of former inmates with earnings in the bottom fifth upon release in 1986, remained at or below that level 20 years later. A Villanova University study concluded that “had mass incarceration not occurred, poverty would have decreased by more than 20 percent, or about 2.8 percentage points” and “several million fewer people would have been in poverty in recent years.”

Read the entire article here. 

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