Some facts about incarcerations in the United States. (Source for this article is the ACLU National Newsletter, Winter 2012). From 1970-2005 US prison population rose by 700 percent. Meanwhile the growth rate in general population was 44 percent. Well over 2 million people are behind bars. US has five percent of world population and 25 percent of its prisoners. Nearly half of the people in state prisons are non-violent. For this we can thank the "get the bastards" policies of the past 40 years: "war on drugs," "getting tough on crime" which has given us things like the "3 strikes and you're out" laws and mandatory minimum sentencing. All of this was based on fear--has it ever occurred to you how convulsed with fear this country is? We're probably the most fearful democracy on the planet. It possesses us.
But locking up all these people has not made us safer--no more than our wars and the obscene amount of money we spend on the military has made us safer--instead it's burdened the taxpayers, overcrowded the prisons something fierce, normalized "an overly punitive mindset that turns to incarceration as a first--rather than a last--resort."
And of course people of color are disproportionally locked up. Why? Discriminatory laws as well as biased sentencing and enforcement*, even though "white Americans commit crimes at the same rates as people of color." It's just beyond scandalous that 1 in every 9 young (20-34) black men is incarcerated.
All these people in jail is crushingly expensive: In the twenty years 1987-2007, states spent more than $44 billion on jail and related expenses, up 127 percent since 1987. Oh, and during the same period states upped spending for higher education by 21 percent.
This is all insane, of course, but since when has that stopped us from doing something?
*See shooting in Sanford, FL: black kid dead, white killer free