Mass Incarceration Editorials

A couple of important articles today, in case any doubt remained about the scourge of mass incarceration:

First, a column by Nicholas Kristof:

So the federal government, at a time when it is cutting education spending, is preparing to spend $415,000 over the next 15 years to imprison a man for innocently possessing seven shotgun shells while trying to help a widow in the neighborhood. And, under the law, there is no early release: [Edward] Young will spend the full 15 years in prison…

We have invested in mass incarceration in ways that are crushingly expensive, break up families and are often simply cruel. With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has almost one-quarter of the world’s prisoners.

Second, a Times editorial on California’s failure to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision re: its overcrowding.

Since the mid-1970s, California’s prison population has grown by 750 percent, driven by sentencing laws based largely on fear, ignorance and vengeance. The state’s notorious three-strikes law, passed in 1994, is only the most well-known example. Because of it, 9,000 offenders are serving life in prison, including many whose “third strike” was a nonserious, nonviolent offense — in one case, attempting to steal a pair of work gloves from a Home Depot…

Inmates are often released with no warning to friends or family, with no money, no means of transportation and no clothes other than the jumpsuits on their backs. It is no wonder a 2012 report showed that 47 percent of California prisoners returned to prison within a year of their release, a significantly higher rate than the national average.

Thankfully, it seems the wind is blowing in the right direction — away from mandatory minimums, towards alternative sentencing and judicial discretion. But as long as there are stories like Edward Young’s, abuses of solitary confinement, failures to reintegrate those who have done their time, and new cycles of entrapment in the criminal justice system through breaking up of families and misappropriation of public funds, there is tremendous work to be done.

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