While having a discussion during this past weekend, I learned about a troubling bit of information.
I learned while the number of people filling up United States prisons has been alarming in the last few decades, the issue is actually much larger than I had known.
For every 100,000 citizens, 737 individuals are incarcerated in a United States jail or prison.
One cannot form much of an opinion about this sort of figure without a bit of contextual information, so we compare this to that of China, a nation with roughly four times the population of the U.S.
For every 100,000 Chinese citizens there are 111 people imprisoned.
Those who dabble in American politics will understand that rhetoric suggests China as being a “police state” with an authoritarian government as the last great Communist power left in the world.
While there is no doubt of the grip the Chinese government holds over its people, I am still left wondering exactly how the United States can call itself the “land of the free” when we imprison more people than anyone else in the world.
One of the major contributing factors is the “War on Drugs” that has been raging since the 1980s.
You could easily write pages upon pages on the ridiculous amount of money spent on this “war” as well as the ineffectiveness and overall hypocrisy of it.
Alcohol and cigarettes are certainly drugs. There is no doubt of their addictive properties and the severe negative effects of abusing these substances are.
Alcohol and tobacco are responsible for more American deaths each year than crack cocaine, marijuana and heroin combined. Yet these taxable drugs are freely available to anyone of age.
We’ve seen in the past that prohibition is rather ineffective when dealing with addictive substances.
One only has to go as far as the era of alcohol prohibition in the United States that lasted from 1920 until 1933 to see the ineffectiveness of such policy.
Instead of fighting crime and reducing it, the policy helped coin the era as the era of gangsters in America.
Today, we can look at the amount of money and power various drug cartels throughout Central and South America hold to see the effect of our policies.
The second major contributing factor to this large rate of imprisonment in the United States is the recent privatization of prisons.
Instead of the state or federal government owning and operating prisons, private companies and individuals have control.
Not only are more prisons becoming privatized, but they generate a significant amount of money in doing so.
From tax breaks to producing goods using prisoner labor, there is a growing industry stemmed from getting more people behind bars.
This second issue is more frightening than failed policy in my eyes. The fact that in America, money is power, as well as free speech, and money can be generated easily by locking people up.
We’ve seen before that when the potential for profit is there, individuals and companies are driven to make more of it.
From here, I see individuals with money and power attempting to lobby for their agenda to our representatives. Their agenda is to get more American citizens behind bars.
From there, our representatives pass laws that allow more people to be arrested and imprisoned for small offenses.
The only focus our justice system should have is to bring those guilty of crimes to justice and if possible, rehabilitate those who have the potential to be reintroduced to society.
With incentives to keep more people incarcerated for longer amounts of time in place, the idea of rehabilitation goes out the window.
Once again, the system is not catering to the wants and needs of the American people, but rather to those who have the money and power to push their agendas.
I feel that it is the duty of the American people to fight back against the privatization of prisons and focus not on incarceration, but on rehabilitation.
American citizens should not be subject to being imprisoned by those not put in power in a democratic way.
Perhaps in the future proper prison reform will be on the agenda and I hope that our nation moves away from the current direction we’re going and instead focuses on rehabilitating those who break the law.
Somehow, we have to find a way to bring down our massive number of people incarcerated. Holding roughly 5 percent of the world’s population isn’t too noticeable, yet holding 25 percent of the world’s imprisoned population is, and that is where we rank as a nation.