Something is rotten in America, when one realizes that the United States leads the world in the amount of people who are in prison per 100,000 people. We currently have over 2.2 million people incarcerated in prison. 

We have 743 people per 100,000 according to Wikipedia. The next highest verifiable world leader in this less than proud statistic is the home of the Gulag, Russia with about 577 inmates per 100,000. One can’t even blame hard times for this shameful statistic. In 2007, our prison population, was 5.5 times greater than at the highest point of the Great Depression.

The issue of prisons in America, does not get much press, unless, a court finds a state lacking, in having overcrowding in their state’s prisons, or if someone escapes or if an execution grabs headlines. Congress has taken notice, though, and surprisingly they are working on reforms that will change the system. Their efforts are directed primarily at reducing sentences. Why is Congress looking into this? 

Republicans, surprisingly are leading the way in their attempt to reform the prison system for two reasons, the cost of incarceration and the fact that conservative religious groups are seeking to rehabilitate prisoners. Wow, what a novel concept!

What distinguishes America from the rest of the world are the length of sentencing and the amount of people who are in prison for drug offenses. We are not talking about drug pushers but users, addicts.

When you look at the stats, one is faced with the inescapable conclusion that racial injustice is occurring? White drug use is 5 times greater than African-Americans but blacks are 10 times more likely to be in prison. African-Americans are also sentenced longer for drug crimes as compared to whites. The length of time they will serve for drug offenses is equal to what whites serve for violent crime. In the southern states, an unavoidable thought arises, and that is that prisoners have become nothing other than cheap labor. One hundred and fifty years after the Civil War and once again, African-Americans are being used as slaves in the south. Thrown in prison and forgotten, used and abused with no thought of rehabilitation but used to produce goods on the cheap.

For prisoners in general, our prison system is not set up to rehabilitate but rather to punish in some form of retribution. We have in this country, 25% of the known prisoners in the world. We don’t lead the world in much these days, debt, our military strength and we are number one in the world in prisoners.

Drug users should not be treated as criminals. They fill up our jails and cost the tax payers billions. Drug addiction is an illness and should be treated as such. Prison is a great place to ensure that drug users can become trained to be criminals and thus ensure that our overcrowded prisons continue to be so.

Europe has many examples of how the legalization of drugs has worked. By making drugs available at a drug store, and treating drug addiction as an illness dramatic strides have been made. Crime is down. The occurrence of AIDS is reduced, and tax receipts are up. The only people who are harmed are the drug cartels.

What has happened in America is that prisons have become a growth industry. We as a society are not helped by this as it costs us all, in terms of money, and human pain and suffering. The time for reform is now.


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