March 30th, 2012
06:34 PM ET

Zakaria: Incarceration nation

Editor's Note: Tune in this Sunday at 10am or 1pm EST for Fareed Zakaria GPS. 

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

Something caught my eye the other day: Pat Robertson, the high priest of the religious right, had some startling things to say about drugs.

"I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol," Mr. Robertson said in a recent interview. "I've never used marijuana and I don't intend to, but it's just one of those things that I think. This war on drugs just hasn't succeeded."

The reason Robertson is for legalizing marijuana is that it has created a prison problem in America that is well beyond what most Americans imagine.

"It's completely out of control," Mr. Robertson said. "Prisons are being overcrowded with juvenile offenders having to do with drugs. And the penalties - the maximums - some of them could get 10 years for possession of a joint of marijuana. It makes no sense at all."

Read: America needs a 2-page tax code.

He’s right. Here are the numbers: The total number of Americans under correctional supervision (prison, parole, etc.) is 7.1 million, more than the entire state of Massachusetts. Adam Gopnik writes in the New Yorker, "Over all, there are now more people under 'correctional supervision' in America...than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height."

No other country comes even close to our rates of incarceration. We have 760 prisoners per 100,000 people. Most European countries have one seventh that number (per capita, so it's adjusted for population). Even those on the high end of the global spectrum - Brazil and Poland - have only a quarter the number we do.

If you say this is some kind of enduring aspect of America's "Wild West" culture, you would be wrong. In 1980, our rates of incarceration were a quarter what they are now. What changed was the war on drugs and the mindless proliferation of laws that created criminal penalties for anything and everything. If you don’t believe me, listen to Pat Roberston again. Here's a quote:

"We here in America make up 5% of the world's population, but we make up 25% of jailed prisoners....We have now over 3,000 - the number must be might higher than that - but over 3,000 federal crimes, and every time the liberals pass a bill - I don't care what it involves - they stick criminal sanctions on it. They don't feel there is any way people are going to keep a law unless they can put them in jail.... So we have the jails filled with people who are white collar criminals.

In the past two decades, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education. In 2011, California spent $9.6 billion on prisons, versus $5.7 billion on higher education. Since 1980, California has built one college campus; it's built 21 prisons. The state spends $8,667 per student per year. It spends about $50,000 per inmate per year.

Read: Deterring Iran is the best option.

Why is this happening? Prisons are a big business. Most are privately run. They have powerful lobbyists and they have bought most state politicians. Meanwhile, we are bankrupting out states and creating a vast underclass of prisoners who will never be equipped for productive lives.

I never thought I'd say this, but God bless you, Pat Robertson.

This is not a scientific poll.

Tune in this Sunday at 10am or 1pm EST for Fareed Zakaria GPS.  For more of Fareed's Takes, click here.

Post by:
Topics: From Fareed • Law • United States

« Previous entry
soundoff (1,151 Responses)
  1. Oolong Johnson

    Something else that should be considered.

    If you are able to clear out the prisons by releasing all of the unjustified individuals put there for using marijuana, you would have enough room (and supposed money) to abolish the death sentences. Let them rot in a small cell until they die. Prisons are made to hold the worst of the worst.

    Another thought, if marijuana were legalized and people were allowed to grow it themselves. I would imagine the carbon offset would be noticeable... and I don't see a problem with having a nation of green-thumbs... Can you imagine the increase of knowledge when it comes to growing plants and everything that comes with that?

    April 2, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Reply
    • Sharp

      The ones who will fight Marijuana decriminalization to the bitter end is our mammoth liquor industry. An easy to grow replacement for booze is their worst nightmare. Overnight a multi billion dollar industry would collapse.

      April 2, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Reply
      • Patrick

        Alcohol and pot are two entirely different things.

        April 2, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  2. Mike Hammer

    About time we pulled the blinders off and realize that some causes are like tilting at windmills. We as a nation have bigger concerns and much more serious issues that need to be addressed.

    April 2, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Reply
  3. Sharp

    The really dangerous drugs are Crack Cocaine & Methamphetamine. Lots of serious violent crimes are committed by people on those two. Marijuana should be decriminalized. I would like to see some real statistics on just who is in prison for what crime. My understanding is that Marijuana crimes are low level offenses not serious felonies. Robertson claims liberals are passing laws to incarcerate harmless white collar criminals. I would like real information & proof if he has it.

    April 2, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Reply
  4. plr article packs

    Please anybody will help me about how am i able to get the record of dofollow free directory,article,bookmarking submission please provide the energetic useful resource and likewise dofollow

    April 2, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Reply
  5. Youth Connection

    If black people started making flat bread and added a little wine to it, they would outlaw it next year and post a five year sentence to it. America hates black people and we don't even know why. Black people don't kill other people, whites do. They only kill each other. Africans have never warred with others outside of their race, everyone else does. It is just hate, evil, plain and simple. I believe human beings hate their mother, and a black woman is everybody's mother where ever you ventured off to.

    April 2, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Reply
  6. gstlab3

    WHY ARE SO MANY PEOPLE IN JAIL AND PRISON OR ON PROBATION????

    PROFITS.

    POPULATION CONTROL.,
    DEMOGRAPHICS AND SOCIAL STATUS ARE VERY WELL CONTROLLED THIS WAY.

    2.25 MILLION PEOPLE ARE LOCKED UP TODAY IN AMERICA.

    THESE SAME PEOPLE WOULD BE AT THOSE GOOD FACTORY JOBS IF THEY WERE NOT SHIPPED OVER SEAS FOR YOU GUESED IT PROFIT AND CONTROLLS

    WHEN WE HAD A MIDDLE CLASS THEY COULD VOTE IN AN EFFECTIVE WAY BECAUSE THEY HAD THE NUMBERS, TIME AND THE MONEY TO DO IT.

    NOT ANYMORE.

    THE WHOLE THING IS CONTROLLED BY THE CENTRAL BANKS AND THE CORPORATION AS IT IS REFERRED TO IN THE INNERMOST CIRCLES.

    AMERICA LOST EVERYTHING WITH THE FEDERAL RESERVE ACT AND PROPERTY AND INCOME TAXES THAT FOLLOWED SHORTLY THEREAFTER.

    DO'NT BELIEVE ME??????
    GO FIND AND READ YOUR HISTORY BOOKS AGAIN.,
    NOT THOSE SANITIZED ONES THEY GIVE TO YOUR BRAINWASHED CHILDREN IN THE PUBLIC...,
    I MEAN GOVERNMENT RUN SCHOOLS.

    DRUGS ESPECAILLY MARIJUANA ALLOWS PEOPLE TO THINK OUTSIDE OF THE GOVERNMENT CONTROLLED BOX.

    THIS IS THE MAIN REASON FOR THE PROHIBITION ON IT.

    ALL THE OTHER DRUGS USED REPRESENT ONLY ONE OR TWO PERCENT OF ALL THE ILLICIT DRUGS USED.

    THAT MEANS WHEN THEY SAY DRUG USE THEY ARE MAINLY TALKING ABOUT MARIJUANA.

    IF ONLY ONE OR TWO PERCENT OF PEOPLE ARE USING THE TRUELY DANGEROUS DRUGS WHY ALL THE FUSS RIGHT??

    BECAUSE MORE PEOPLE HAVE AND DO CONTINUE TO USE MARIJUANA AND THEY ARE ON TO THE GOVERNMENTS LIES AND SCAMS.

    THAT'S WHY ALL THE FUSS ABOUT DRUG USE.

    WE KNOW THEY ARE LYING TO US AND WE ARE MAD AS HELL.

    THE FEDS RAIDED OAKSTERDAM UNIVERSITY TODAY IN CALIFORNIA.

    THE STATES AND THE PEOPLE HAVE NO REPRESENTATION ANYMORE AS SEEN TODAY IN OAKLAND.

    TO MANY PEOPLE ARE THINKING LIKE ME AND THIS IS WHY THE FEDS ARE IN FULL SWING AGAINST MARIJUANA.

    WE ARE ACTUALLY PAYING ATTENTION AND ARE BORED TO DEATH WITH TELEVISION NEWS AND THE TOTAL BULLCRAP THEY SPEW AT US EVERY DAY!!!!!!!!!!

    NO MORE LIES FROM WASHINGTON D.C.!!!!!!!!!!!

    GROW YOUR OWN, FREE YOUR MIND, FREE THE PLANET!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 2, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Reply
  7. Mainframe

    And yet here in Europe we thought that this was one of the benefits of capital punishment; the fact you could reduce numbers and thereby lessen taxpayer costs of maintaining prisoners by execution. I guess it doesn't work out so easily either way.

    April 2, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Reply
  8. Bon Jovi

    We out source everything from this country except the one thing that makes sense. Outsource prisons to all of the countries that get US aid. Or some of the remote Eastern European countries at a fraction of what we currently spend. Prisoners may rethink their actions if they knew they would do some serious time in Kazakhstan.

    April 2, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Reply
  9. motorcycle repair courses

    Just desire to say your article is as surprising. The clarity in your put up is simply nice and that i can suppose you're knowledgeable on this subject. Fine together with your permission let me to grab your feed to stay updated with approaching post. Thank you one million and please keep up the enjoyable work.

    April 2, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Reply
  10. smokey the bear

    I grow it, I smoke it, and I enjoy it with friends. I clean up after myself, I dont make too much noise, I dont sell it... no no no... you must come to my cave to enjoy the kronic!! cause smokey cant afford any trouble... ya see, he has baby bears running all over the place and momma bear would be a mess with our his income! 0:

    April 2, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Reply
  11. Don KC

    If we used caining like Singapore for small infractions, we could save tons of money on prisons and have a more effective deterrent. Follow that up with immediately pulling the switch on all the death row inmates that are obviosly so guilty a blind man could see it or otherwise have track records of being human garbage and we've reduced the prison population even more. The system is so convoluted and it takes so long to impose a sentence much of the deterrence is lost. Only lawyers and criminals benefit from our current system, it certainly doesn't protect the population at large.

    April 2, 2012 at 11:19 pm | Reply
  12. Dave

    Maybe we should just bring back lashes as a criminal punishment. Couple lashes in exchange for every year in prison. Hell of a lot cheaper too

    April 2, 2012 at 11:56 pm | Reply
    • renatawiede

      Peter Moskos beat you to it (pun intended) in "In Defense of Flogging"
      http://www.amazon.com/In-Defense-Flogging-Peter-Moskos/dp/0465021484

      Short, lively book that brings up many of the questions raised in this thread.

      April 3, 2012 at 12:42 am | Reply
  13. Frankie from the noerthside

    Legalizeing Weed would reduce over 1\3 of the Federal and 1/2 of the States returning populations. Paroles job is to keep people in there system to keep JOB Security. New York alone violates oe takes there Parolees out of work and either sends them back or puts them in "Programs" that we also pay for, just for a Positive Weed Urine screen. Feeding each other Business back and forth keeps them working. It also takes away from watching the Pedophiles that they so losely let out. ask the Young Lady with 2 of Philip Gareedos daughters in CA. Tax IT and Leave It Alone

    April 3, 2012 at 12:09 am | Reply
  14. Dan

    The Zetas from Mexico are already well established in the US. Once they become stronger, they will begin assassinating mayors, police chiefs, police, governors, senators, congressmen and journalists, along with family members, as they do in Mexico. Once everyone is afraid to oppose the drug gangs who like to burn people to death and dispose of them in acid until no evidence exists, then the government may re-evaluate our failed drug war. Until then, it is too much income for the people who depend on it. Unfortunately many innocent people will have died.

    April 3, 2012 at 12:15 am | Reply
  15. renatawiede

    For those asking for some facts

    http://www.ussc.gov/Data_and_Statistics/Annual_Reports_and_Sourcebooks/2011/SBTOC11.htm
    * Annual report just published on Federal sentencing statistics. Note that this is just federal, not state crimes. But a good place to start

    If you can't bother to look at more than one table,
    http://www.ussc.gov/Data_and_Statistics/Annual_Reports_and_Sourcebooks/2011/Table12.pdf
    tells plenty of stories. Most crimes were for drug trafficking and immigration, followed by
    fraud and firearms. Murder and manslaughter barely register. About 1% of the crimes were
    for simple drug possession, and 2/3 of them went to prison. Again, this is federal data only.
    Maybe some of you people here like that former state prosecutor could post some links for
    states like California Texas and NY here for comparison.

    April 3, 2012 at 12:55 am | Reply
  16. renatawiede

    Some other good books on the subject:

    New Jim Crow by Michele Alexander

    Teh Perpetual Prison Machine by Joel Dyer

    In Defense of Flogging and Cop in the Hood, both by Peter Moskos

    I've been looking for some good books that defend the drug war, but haven't heard of any. Always willing to hear the other side's argument.

    April 3, 2012 at 12:58 am | Reply
  17. Zachary Davis

    atleast ya'll don't get followed by helicopters.

    April 3, 2012 at 2:23 am | Reply
  18. Bob

    I'm glad he pointed out that it's a growing and highly profitable industry. The beauty of privatizing things like prisons, garbage collection, schools, water supplies, etc. is that it opens up a whole world of opportunity for greedy capitalists to get richer at the expense of everyone else. Having governments provided essential services and only taxi residents for what it costs to provide them is a form of socialism, maybe even communism. Governments that do so could be in league with the devil. It just isn't fair to deprive the rich of their chance to get richer by charging us more for something than we used to pay when the government provided it. The capitalist dream, after all, is to privatize everything, even government. In an ideal world there would be no elections. Seats in congress, even the presidency, would be sold to the highest bidder, allowing the free-market system to work its magic and provide us with the best government money can buy. Then again, there are those who believe this has already happened.

    April 3, 2012 at 3:23 am | Reply
    • pablo

      I'm afraid you are right Bob. Our capitalistic form of government has evolved into a system manipulated by a few to reap vast wealth for a few at the expense of many.

      April 3, 2012 at 6:38 am | Reply
  19. more information here

    It's really a nice and helpful piece of info. I'm satisfied that you shared this useful info with us. Please stay us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

    April 3, 2012 at 3:36 am | Reply
  20. kld210

    GIVE ME A BREAK, I will bet most of you are pot heads. Grow up and leave ALL Drugs alone. If people didn't continually break the law we would not need that many prisons commit a crime and do the time dont care who you are. Stop and look to see how many are illegals, send them home that will probably empty one prison. DRUGS ARE ILLEGAL, ALL DRUGS.

    April 3, 2012 at 6:55 am | Reply
  21. LV

    Could it be, too, that we have the nicest prisons in the world, so they're not as much of a deterrent?

    Jails elsewhere do not generally have cable TV, edible food, happy hour in the playground, conversations with other people.....

    It is also true that we have one of the least corrupt police forces in history. So, comparing how many go to jail vs. any country except a fully westernized nation is not valid.

    Pot? Make domestically grown pot legal, regulate it very heavily so only existing farmers can grow it (win) and tax it so heavily we can erase the national debt.

    As for Pat Robertson, blind squirrel finds nut, but, it matters, because a zillion insanely conservative people actually think he's the voice of the almighty.

    April 3, 2012 at 7:16 am | Reply
  22. "He's Dead Jim."

    If I ever slip and do some offensive drug just shoot me. I won't have to endure your corporate prisons and I won't cost the tax payers any money. Sure legalize pot. More people will go to jail anyway because that's really what the man wants. Legal pot or not. While you're at it legalize all crime. Fighting it doesn't work, sending everybody to prison doesn't work. Screw it; try something new. Legalize more personal weapons. We'll save on health care and prison upkeep fees. Legalize random shootings. Let's have an early retirement lotto. Law doesn't work and lawlessness doesn't work. Let's just have some fun while we're all still alive.

    April 3, 2012 at 7:25 am | Reply
  23. "He's Dead Jim."

    This is another dull-boy "forever argument" Should we legalize pot? Should we let gay peoples get married? Should we balance the stupid budget instead of shutting the government down? Should we totally allow all abortions or get rid of all abortion procedures? Screw it. Legalize all of it so, we can get some peace from all of these moronic questions.

    April 3, 2012 at 7:30 am | Reply
  24. "He's Dead Jim."

    Corporate prisons? As is some corporations are making a profit by running these places? What's to say that people aren't being paid off to "find" people for these prisons?

    April 3, 2012 at 7:35 am | Reply
    • Simeon Namore

      Get out much? This is happening all over the country–again, in Georgia they're trying this (as the latest Republican boondoggle) and it's a disaster–it's a formula for instant corruption and that's exactly what's happening.

      April 3, 2012 at 8:05 am | Reply
  25. Simeon Namore

    I'm not sure that Pat is correct in blaming liberals for the high (excuse the pun) prison population–it was the right wing who sought and got penalties–three strikes and all that. But it's long past time to legalize marijuana. If the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world, Georgia has the highest in the US–which makes Georgia the most imprisoned population in the world. How's that working? Not well. Georgia has been in the hands of the radical right for over a decade and look what it's gotten them: pollution, failing schools, eroding tax base and so many in prison that no one can pay. Not even the rich–who, of course, don't pay anyway. In short, Georgia is the poster child for failed Republican policies.

    April 3, 2012 at 8:03 am | Reply
  26. Tax it

    U.S.patent 663-0507 is not being enforced yet if it was all of this would have been taken care of already.
    SO who do we get to charge the Justice Department, the DEA, the Congress, The Senate, THe white house for continuation of these unjust and unfounded corrupt cannabis laws? If a government uses fraud within its laws to punish those law abidding citizens who do no other crime, and refuse to change these laws even when facts are presented, and use military might, political power, denial of rights, denial of due process, what is that called?
    Treason enforced by terrorism.

    April 3, 2012 at 8:29 am | Reply
  27. Jacob Lot

    The logic that prisons are privately run & therefore profitable to keep lots of prisoners & this is why so many innocent human beings are incarcerated is a logic I haven't heard. If its profit that is the motivation behind this then perhaps legalizing reefer & taxing it would be the capitalistic line of logic that would soothe the mind of these people who think a war on drugs will anything. Should we then move on to the next step & legalize heroin, taxing it & putting it into the Social Security system? Certainly, the revenue from legalization of cocaine could be put into the the Space Programs & we could move on to legalize crack, tax it & put it into the wildlife programs. With the population increase, after all, we would have plenty of worthless fools dying from overdoses saving the tax payers all sorts of welfare payouts & surely a new golden age would come out of it. A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse.

    April 3, 2012 at 8:31 am | Reply
    • Skittles35

      Private prisons have the option to pick and choose what prisoners they take. Ones that are ill or have the aids virus they pass on because this would bring the prison the cost of operation way up. In my mind, there are certain things that should always remain the responsibility of government. Prisons are among them. After all, we're talking about overseeing criminals, and there has to be a level of accountability and transparency that's best served by keeping prison operations in the public (government) realm.

      April 3, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Reply
  28. m.s.mohamed ansari

    RUSH SAVE GLOBAL ECONOMIC TSUNAMI

    M.S.Mohamed Ansari 13 April 2009

    All press and Media Arabs leader and G20 leader at. Headquarters of All association
    AND ELECTRONIC VOTE. CONTROLL BY CONGRESS.
    A TO Z + 8. QUEEN + 8
    Royal wedding. And royal security force 10 generation total cost $ 57 trillion
    Each every politician rolling 8 years only just like chess board Game.
    But queen family rolling 10 generation y

    GLOBAL ECONOMIC COLLAPSE REASON WAR. Improve Economy only 6 points. Peace, prayer
    Liberty, Unity, friendly And simplicity.

    I am also Happy to kill osma bin laden
    Turing point of global Economy. Islam not allowed to be Terrorist and Terrorist people are not a Muslim
    1. Please avoid war. Day by Day war cost increase $ 3.5 trillion
    2. Global economy and food price every Day increase
    3. International job less unemployment Y. All businessmen effected business.
    4. Global financial crisis every CNC manufacture. New technology energy product Effected FDI investors.
    5. Every Day OPEC Oil Price Increase
    6. World poverty problem. Bankrupt 170 Bank overalls 87000 Branch
    7. Each every single man Effected
    8. Ignore future Death million of already Death
    9. Million of People Wounded
    10. Global environment climate will be change this will lead Global Agriculture problem

    Copy.
    A. International criminal court. B. white house. global human right association .C.IMF
    D. euro union. E. united nation F.ALL international famous press and media

    JUSTICE IS IN PERIL. SAVIOUR OF INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE ALONE CAN PROTECT HUMANITY

    From. Mr.M.S.Mohamed Ansari,
    154, Angappa Naicken Street,
    Chennai – 600 001.
    Tamil Nadu,
    INDIA..
    To , The Hon’ble Chief Justice,
    The Supreme Court,
    United States of America,
    Washington, D.C.
    Fax no: 213.547.8080
    Dear Sir,
    Sub: Prosecution of previous President Mr. George W.Bush, for violation of International Code of Conduct.
    Mr. George W.Bush, the previous President of United States of America, initiated a war against IRAQ, without obtaining the previous sanction of United Nations Organization (UNO) on the pretext of having nuclear weapons, even though the then IRAQ government openly exhibited to the whole world that it has no nuclear weapons.
    According to the CNN WORLD report, in the war 6, 75,000 civilians killed, 7500 troops of USA and its allied forces killed 3 25 000 people wounded and $ 3.5 Trillion Dollar spent for the war. This spending of $ 3.5 Trillion Dollar is the main cause of action for the present economic crises prevailing all over the world.
    After winning the war against IRAQ, the United States of America’s President Mr. George W.Bush, also admitted the same fact, and he openly stated that the Intelligence agency misguided him.
    Later on, even the United Nations Organization (UNO) also certified that the IRAQ has no nuclear weapons.
    Then it is the bounded duty of the United States of America and its allied forces to withdraw from IRAQ.
    But instead of withdrawing from IRAQ, the United States of America and its allied forces formed a government in IRAQ, under their control and administered the entire IRAQ, and its peoples.
    This indicates a clear violation of duty by the President of United States of America Mr. George W.Bush and also a clear case of violation of the International Code of Conduct for UNO members.
    Thus Mr. George W.Bush attracts prosecution for the above said offence.
    Thus I hereby pray this Hon’ble Court initiate criminal proceedings against Mr. George W. Bush, and give him maximum punishment for
    a) initiating the war against the IRAQ
    b) killing its innocent IRAQI peoples civilian 6, 75 000
    c) Killing troops of USA and allied forces and 7 500
    d) The present economic crises.
    e) 3 25 000 civilian and coalition 39 000 wounded
    Dated on this day of 13th day of April, 2009.
    Yours truly, (M.S.MOHAMED ANSARI)
    COPY TO
    The Chief Justice, the International Court of Justice, The Hague, Netherlands.
    The Secretary General United Nations Organization
    The Chief Justice, the Supreme Court, IRAQ.
    His Excellency Mr.Barack Obama, the President of United States of America, White House, Washington D.C.

    April 3, 2012 at 9:12 am | Reply
  29. duh

    If you oppose cannabis legalization you are crazier and a greater fascist then pat robinson.... that is a very scary thought and you should probably just move to Iran

    April 3, 2012 at 9:27 am | Reply
  30. Mike D

    Thank you Zakaria for having the courage to write this piece.

    April 3, 2012 at 9:56 am | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Leave a Reply to Proof?


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

« Previous entry