August 17th, 2013
03:07 AM ET

U.S. wakes up to its prison nightmare

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By Global Public Square staff

We were struck by a piece of news recently that is good for America, shows that our politicians are learning from their mistakes, and are actually cooperating with each other – on both sides of the aisle. Sounds too good to be true?

For many years, the United States has had a growing problem in its criminal justice system. As Global Public Square has pointed out before, the United States is number one in the world when it comes to incarceration – by far. In 2009, for example, for every 100,000 citizens, 760 Americans were in prison. That was five times the rate of incarceration in Britain, eight times the rate in Germany and South Korea, and 12 times the rate in Japan.

This trend began about 40 years ago. In 1970, state prisons had a combined total of 174,000 inmates. By 2009, they had 1.4 million – an eight-fold increase. And these correctional systems cost a lot of money of course – nearly $80 billion a year, more than the GDP of Croatia or Tunisia.

Well it seems that finally, common sense is prevailing. Attorney General Eric Holder made an important speech this week admitting that our prisons are overcrowded and costly. He specifically called for a reduction in mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenders.

It's important the attorney general brought up drugs, because the numbers are startling. Federal prisons, the group Holder was referring to, account for about 14 percent of our total inmates. In these prisons, the most serious charge for nearly half of all inmates is a drug offence. Compare that with state prisons, where only 20 percent of the inmates have a drug offence as their most serious charge.

More from CNN: Shame of mandatory minimums

Now, here is what is interesting. The federal prison population has increased every single year since 1980. On the other hand, state prison populations have been declining in recent years, so much so that the overall number of inmates – state plus federal – is actually down in each of the past three years. And here is the best part: the declines encompass 28 states, red AND blue.

Part of these declines are because budgets were simply collapsing. But it could also be because of a growing acknowledgment that the war on drugs has failed. According to the pro-reform Drug Policy Alliance, the United States spends about $50 billion a year on the drug war – adding up to a trillion dollars in the last four decades – but there has been no real change in addiction rates.

Americans are not more prone to drugs or crime than citizens of other countries, so why should we put so many people in prison? Well, the good news is that the numbers are finally too large to ignore. The states are already acting. And Holder's comments will add momentum to a growing chorus for reform.

The greatest challenge in pushing these numbers further down will be the prison lobby. Believe it or not, many of our prisons are run by private companies that then lobby state legislatures massively for bigger prisons, larger budgets, and of course more prisoners. According to the non-profit Justice Policy Institute, the two largest private prison companies in America together generate revenues of $3 billion a year – paid by taxpayers, of course. These private prison companies also happen to be major donors to a number of state campaigns, lobbying for more resources.

If our politicians can take on the prison lobbies, there really is hope for America.

Post by:
Topics: Drugs • Law • United States • What in the World?

soundoff (1,005 Responses)
  1. Quinton

    As long as there are drugs around and as long as kids keep pushing them, this prison nightmare is not going to just "go away", so to speak. Another problem is that today's parents are teaching their children to do whatever they feel like, no matter who gets hurt in the process. This lack of respect for others is also contributing to this problem as anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of any road rage incident on the road would know as they know what it is be cussed out with that filthy Tea Party lingo. But the biggest contributor to this problem is just plain ignorance among the people!

    August 17, 2013 at 12:22 pm | Reply
    • ddaryl

      then legalize and tax.. so simple even a caveman can do it

      August 18, 2013 at 6:19 am | Reply
      • tafugate

        the problem isn't allowing you to sit in mom's basement drugged out for the rest of your life. knock yourself out. the problem is you have to steal to support your habit. your stealing from me. occasionally you'll venture out to replenish your stash. you'll drive, ignore a stop light, and run into me.


        August 18, 2013 at 7:31 am |
      • Mobious

        Sure ddryl.. Next thing you know you will be able to buy meth on your EBT card.

        August 18, 2013 at 8:09 am |
      • Gecko

        You could save up to 15%

        August 18, 2013 at 8:11 am |
      • Bob Roll

        @tafugate ... Them criminalize what's criminal in your statement: theft and driving high. Just as it's legal to sit in your mom's basement and get drunk, it should be legal to sit down there and get high.

        August 18, 2013 at 8:15 am |
      • Dr. Zeke

        @tafugate You must be the most ignorant person I've seen posting here. I'm guessing you've spent way too much time rotting your brain, what little of it there was to begin with, with baseless lies and propaganda, and probably an unhealthy alcohol addiction, that you've nil left to think on a functional level. All you've left is fantasies about things you don't understand, and never will.

        August 18, 2013 at 8:35 am |
      • GrizzlyBaer

        Disclaimer: I have not done any type of drug and have no desire to do so. Here is my point of view.

        The American people have least a good size population of them! They want the ability to do drugs and have shown their support by their usage. Let's face it...drug usage is here to stay. It will never be eliminated!!

        Some of the thinkers aren't thinking!! Legalize and tax is THE way to do not allow usage in grandma's basement. Usage is ONLY allowed in a tightly controlled environment where dosages can be administered and monitored. Yes, I understand that many want to party with their friends and that could be allowed in this environment too. But this would be a cleaner safer way to do drugs which would be greatly appreciated by the majority of the population that enjoys drug usage.

        Think about the amount of money spent on catching drug smugglers, dealers and users. Instead, turn it into a legitimate business. Now we can reduce the prison population saving tax dollars (ca-ching!) We can reduce drug law enforcement needs (ca-ching!) We can tax importation of the product (ca-ching!) We can tax the income of the businessman (ca-ching!). And we can tax the sale of the product (ca-ching!) Instead of a multi-million dollar drain on our economy, legalization would be turned into multi-billion dollar influx into the ecomony adding large number of tax dollars, creating numerous businesses and increasing job opportunities.

        No one solution is perfect! Even by legalizing drug usage, there will be problems, the same that exist today, but the problems would be far less. Those who don't want to be told when and how much drugs they can be used. Those who are deep addicts will continue their current paths...stealing and buying drugs off the street. But these people would be a very small number and in a legalized system..much easier to spot!

        One final argument against. There will be those borderline people who, now are deterred from trying drugs, will in a legalized system, be braver to try drugs. I say let them. It is their choice. The deterrent in this case should start with the family but beyond that...a mandatory informational campaign. They are explained the side effects and concerns and then they choose. Much like the cigarettes ad campaigns!!

        Comments??? I would like to hear other comments as to why a CONTROLLED legalized system would not work!!

        August 18, 2013 at 10:00 am |
      • Einzart

        Ha ha. Would you really be able to pay your taxes if your are drugged out? Didn't think so. So thats not the answer. Prisons are big businesses for private companies, counties, courts, cops, lawyers, bail bonds, tow-trucking companies and everyone else feeding on it. I suspect that they will cut sentences in areas where they don't get money somehow and continue to push for incarcerations to rake in money where they can make more. Ultimately these actions are not governed by what is good for the society rather what makes or loses money. Sad indeed!

        August 18, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • Grouch

      I'm all for legalization of drugs. For what we have been spending on the so call war on drugs we could have bought several small countries. But, I'm not for bailing out the people who turn themselves into junkies. No more rehab! It's as costly as the war and it's pretty much ineffective. You want to be a crack-head or heroine junkie, you knew the stuff would snuff you out when you started. Not my job, nor my moneys job, to pick up the pieces.

      August 18, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Reply
  2. JAL

    There are evolutionary effects from a lack of resources over a long duration. The biggest effects are in brain function. I believe that these effects create an empirical mindset as a survival mechanism personally, locally and in the grand scheme of things. Fareed is the only person I know that actively combats an empirical mindset through inclusion, learning and communication. Thank you Fareed.

    August 18, 2013 at 5:14 am | Reply
    • JAL

      Evidence is empirical. A human mind should not be empirical or closed, but always open.

      August 18, 2013 at 5:32 am | Reply
  3. Kevin

    "$50 billion a year on the drug war – adding up to a trillion dollars in the last four decades – but there has been no real change in addiction rates." - Math FAIL

    August 18, 2013 at 6:02 am | Reply
    • randy

      just because it's currently costing 50 bil / yr doesn't mean it has previously.

      August 18, 2013 at 7:00 am | Reply
      • mISSY

        That AND THAT FACT THAT $200 BILLION ISN'T EVEN CLOSE TO $1 TRILLION. $50 Billion times four isn't $1 TRILLION. And for that matter, this dummy is supporting the idea that your crime isn't your fault, it's just a function of being stupid because of what color you are. Sounds like racism to me........... and if you believe our prisons are full of non-violent pot heads, YOU'RE DUMBER THAN THE PEOPLE SITTING BEHIND BARS. Good grief, this country is full of IDIOTS>

        August 18, 2013 at 8:07 am |
      • Bob Roll

        @ Missy – 4 decades = 40 years. 50 x 40 = 2 trillion.I believe that is the math he was doing...

        August 18, 2013 at 8:18 am |
      • Dr. Zeke

        Sadly mISSY, the irony of you saying the country is full of idiots is quite rich, considering that you're one of them.

        August 18, 2013 at 8:38 am |
    • Gramin


      August 18, 2013 at 8:11 am | Reply
      • GrizzlyBaer

        This is why these big problems can never really make progress and improve...people only want to point fingers and call others names. Let's have a conversation of how we can solve these problems instead!!

        August 18, 2013 at 10:09 am |
    • Gramin

      Really, Missy... did you even read the damn article? $50 billion per year, adding up to nearly $1 trillion over the past four decades. And the $50B per year is recently, not an average over the past four decades. And if it was an average, the correct math is: $50B X 4 X 10 = $2 trillion.

      And yes, our prisons are full of non-violent pot heads. Everyone knows this.

      August 18, 2013 at 8:15 am | Reply
    • TheLightbringer

      What's even worse is that she's allowed to vote

      August 18, 2013 at 9:17 am | Reply
    • aylwas

      It said it was $50 billion a year over the GDP of two countries, not just $50 billion a year...

      August 18, 2013 at 10:37 pm | Reply
  4. Kevin

    Hey, let's allow private companies to run our prisons and think of creative ways to make a profit off of inmates.

    Nothing could possibly go wrong.

    August 18, 2013 at 6:09 am | Reply
    • John

      Now there is a wrong headed idea if there ever was one. Private for profit prisons just encourage more and more people with minor offenses to be incarcerated for long periods of time. Have an outstanding fine, that you cannot pay, you get arrested for not paying the fine. If you have previous arrests, you end up being sent to prison for lack of ability to pay a fine. Now the rest of us get to pay the "fine" many times over. Justice systems in some states are setup to send people to prison, and with private prisons lobbying legislatures for tougher sentencing, we end up with a self-fulfilling systems.

      August 18, 2013 at 7:42 am | Reply
      • Mark Braun

        John, we know from Economics that Prisons, just like any other business (electricity production, health care, widgets) – will benefit from less regulations. If you allow the free market economy to work, the industry will regulate itself.

        August 18, 2013 at 8:15 am |
      • Jennifer

        I'm pretty sure Kevin was being sarcastic....

        August 18, 2013 at 8:20 am |
      • Jason Brutus Kane

        What a great idea. I have another one. Lets lower prison cost by providing seeds for the subhumans to grow their own food and allow the surplus,if any to be sold. Id there's a shortage, let all the sub's to see whether the fittest survive. That keeps the population of prisions lower and provides good protein for the surviving sub's.

        August 18, 2013 at 8:25 am |
  5. Steve

    Jobs, not welfare.

    August 18, 2013 at 6:36 am | Reply
  6. Ryan

    whether it be the drug dealing prisoner or the corporation imprisoning them... both love money. so there's nothing new here... the love of money has been and will continue to be... the root of all evil.

    August 18, 2013 at 6:44 am | Reply
  7. tet1953

    We are at a crossroad. They will have to either end the war on drugs or build more prisons. Big pharma and the private corrections industry will fight tooth and nail for the status quo.

    August 18, 2013 at 6:51 am | Reply
  8. CRK

    I've been saying it for a long time. The drug war is lost, time for a different strategy. The drug war has been, and is, about corporate profits. We are now starting to learn that there are actual benefits to medical marijuana, and that it's legalization is not just some pot heads dream. I've never used any drug harder than alcohol myself, but I have friends that are hard core addicts, and the laws didn't help them. The Democrats complain of to many blacks in prison, the GOP has a problem with spending, so hey, here is a great way to take care of many problems! Anyone can see that this just makes sense. But then I never accused politicians or having any common sense either. Again, may I emphasize that corporate america is profiting off the war on drugs? The drug companies keep their patents and exclusivities, and the prison companies have their prisoners. And we tax payors get stuck with the bill.

    August 18, 2013 at 6:51 am | Reply
    • tet1953

      "I've never used any drug harder than alcohol myself" do realize that there is considerable evidence that alcohol is more harmful and addictive than cannabis, right? Just sayin'

      August 18, 2013 at 6:56 am | Reply
      • Mark

        Alcohol is definitely one of the worst drugs out there, many people have easily drank themselves to the grave, whereas I've never heard of anyone dying from an overdose on weed. We've been saying this for years now!

        August 18, 2013 at 7:11 am |
      • Ron

        Maybe not overdosed but I'll bet most potheads are only operating on half their brain power, Its a known fact that smoking weed before you are an adult will atrophy your brain, And its a sure thing That most people in here have been smoking for a lonnnnnnnng time!!!

        August 18, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • Dr. Zeke

      "We are now starting to learn that there are actual benefits to medical marijuana"

      No, some of us have known this for a very long time. I've been consuming cannabis for over 43 years. It hasn't hurt my memory, made me stupid, or made me antisocial. Then again, I've always been at the head of any class I took. Still am.

      August 18, 2013 at 8:42 am | Reply
      • Ron

        You know the most sickening thing, All of the potheads jumping on the band wagon to legalize weed for medical reasons when they could care less if a child dies or not!!! The medical weed they are talking about does not have the chemical that gets you stoned, it is just a medicinal herb! But I'll bet none of the potheads will shout and screem to legalize just that brand of weed! Only thing they believe is if they legalize weed they will be able to stay stoned in moms house while she works to support them for the rest of their lives, Personally, I'm for terminating all stoners and drug dealers, Then watch the prison population drop! And, its better for society!!!

        August 18, 2013 at 9:12 am |
      • GrizzlyBaer

        Dr. Zeke, are you halucinating again! Just funnin' with ya!!

        August 18, 2013 at 10:13 am |
  9. john vance

    There's a fine line between punishment of misbehaving citizens and protecting the public from persons who are hopelessly and irreversibly violently dangerous or predatory. That many leave prison not only as unrehabilitated criminals but as stronger, meaner and better-trained criminals than when they entered should be a wake-up for all of society.
    Surely with all of the experience in criminology the U.S. possesses we can come up with a better system to identify those who should never be free and keep them separated from those who may have made a punishable mistake but who truly and honestly want to turn their lives around.

    August 18, 2013 at 7:12 am | Reply
  10. Mike

    I don't want the government interfering with how business is run, it's un-American. – The typical Republican response.

    Seriously, there's too much money being made for corporations that have no way of using of all of it for this to stop any time soon. Unless they legalize and monitor drug use. Good luck with all the religious geniuses in this country. PS these geniuses love to spout off their religious beliefs but God forbid bother to get any kind of religious education from an accredited source rather than what the local preacher says, who the odds are probably didn't bother to get on either.

    August 18, 2013 at 7:36 am | Reply
  11. Steve

    If only banishment was an alternative to imprisonment for some crimes it would mean the chance of a new life for the offenders and be a lot better on society.

    August 18, 2013 at 7:37 am | Reply
    • ced1968

      Isn't that how Australia was settled?

      August 18, 2013 at 8:09 am | Reply
      • exiled

        Yes ,And it is[Australia ] a much better country to live in for the vast majority . This comment could be attacked for being off topic but the writer of the original article stated he thought there was hope for U.S.A. Somebody walks into an elementary school and blows away many chldren and you can't pass any meaningful gun and mental health legislation , NO , there is currently no hope what so ever[doesn't mean people shouldn't fight for what they believe in] . To address the traditional idiot argument and save some time" if you don't like it move somewhere else" working on it......

        August 18, 2013 at 8:49 am |
  12. Jack Beanstalk

    The profit from overcrowded prisons isn't only going to the politicians who get campaign donations, and the private prison corporations awash with funds that drives this taxpayer abuse. The police on the street are paid for each different part of the booking process that they engage in. Each arrest they make, pads their pocket with overtime and fees for court appearaces, booking, evidence gathering and many more parts of the arrest process. We have seen by dashcam video, evidence being planted by the police in order to make an arrest. We have seen how confiscations of property funds local police and ithe funds are often misused and unappropriated. Our whole system is geared toward profiting from convictions. What could possibly go wrong?

    August 18, 2013 at 7:40 am | Reply
  13. trollol

    Isn't it obvious? The problem is that there are too many laws.

    August 18, 2013 at 7:41 am | Reply
    • ced1968


      August 18, 2013 at 8:09 am | Reply
  14. Helen Troy

    just another drug to be addicted too... let it join the list... no reason to keep the heavy sentences... but the people demanded it.. this blogger/progressive missed the point... but hey it may sell books...

    August 18, 2013 at 7:48 am | Reply
  15. eagle43302

    Over crowding prisons is a way of saying crime is down in the burbs so that class of people don't feel the need to pay the taxes to lock up these offenders who will get out and go back to their poor neighborhoods and make life miserable there. Those people in prison are for the most part a pox on their old neighborhoods, but because those neighborhoods are filled with poor it's OK to release them back there. I say release all you want but lets start building half way houses out amongst those pushing these laws so they can have a joint or two on the weekend recreationally.

    August 18, 2013 at 7:52 am | Reply
  16. Charlie

    We don't have a high prison population because we have prisons or because we sentence criminals to prison. We have a high prison rate because we have segments of society that encourages crime and discourages excelling in school, working hard at a job and taking personal responsibility for ones actions.

    August 18, 2013 at 7:54 am | Reply
    • Dr. Zeke

      Haven't yet learned that you're not the brightest bulb on the tree, have you?

      Sorry, Charlie, but you are correct only in your own mind.

      August 18, 2013 at 8:47 am | Reply
    • Jowpow

      I'm sorry, but you're so far off the mark with this...

      The rate of re-incarceration in the US is staggeringly high. Almost everyone that goes to prison once will go back again, and it's entirely because the US justice system is based on punishing those who have done wrong, not rehabilitating them. There are millions of people in prisons right now for non-violent crimes that will get out at some point without being able to find a job, vote, qualify for the same government benefits as other citizens, or do much of anything to better themselves. So guess what they do? More crime.

      Drugs are a health issues that require treatment. By incarcerating non-violent drug addicts for simple possession the US is literally creating lifetime criminals that will spend the rest of their days in and out of prison. With the trillions of dollars the country has effectively wasted trying to punish addicts, we could have done ALOT to get them proper medical treatment, resources to find them a job, etc. The system exists to punish crime but very little to rehabilitate those who committed them. It's a backwards strategy that's doomed to give poor results.

      August 18, 2013 at 9:10 am | Reply
    • Brian

      Charlie, you are absolutely correct. A comment by another reader stated something about voter restriction, well in Ohio the only person who cannot vote is a convicted felon in jail or prison. If they are out they can vote and they can vote in jail if not convicted of a felony on that present incarceration.

      We have a generation of kids that feel anything a certain group of persons do you have to do the opposite. You see this in a lack of marriages, education, jobs, violent behavior, manners, apparel, speech, responsibility and the one excuse they always say, you are picking on me because I’m _________ .

      Oh, where was the outrage when a baby was shot at point blank range in a stroller by a certain minority during a robbery. Or the beating of a kid by three thugs on a school bus. I guess these crimes were not racially motivated, the heck they weren’t.

      Stop putting your head in the ground and call for equality for all and no more free passes. Earn it, we are not going give anyone a break anymore.

      We have to stop the excuses, pull your pants up, roll up your sleeves, straighten out your hat, walk with your head up and get to work!!!

      August 18, 2013 at 11:58 am | Reply
  17. RK

    Mandatory death sentences for drug gang members and dealers , and carrying out those sentences would help the problem and the economy.

    August 18, 2013 at 7:54 am | Reply
  18. Politicsisbs

    Okay there should never EVER EVER EVER be a reason for a private prison. Think about this for a second, the reason people hate government organizations is the REASON THIS SHOULD NOT HAPPEN. Government organizations are almost always inefficient and do the minimum to get by. This is important because then we won't be putting people away especially not to generate cash. There cannot be financial incentives to incarcerate people. People and money make EVIL. It may not happen quickly but it will happen to the best of humans. Do not put our prisons in this situation at all. These people are already corrupt by another means, POWER over other humans. If you privatize the prisons you not only have money involved you have POWER as well. They feed off of each other, power off of money more so than the other way around.....We show our ignorance of societal norms by doing this.

    August 18, 2013 at 7:59 am | Reply
    • Skeptimist

      Your very accurate analysis of private prisons applies as well to many other areas of the political and economic arena in the U.S. As Eisenhower warned, corporate wealth and power have risen to dominate the military/industrial complex. Similar inroads have been achieved in the health, academic and manufacturing industries . This has resulted in a steady increase in the concentration of wealth and power over the past 30-40 years.

      There is only one strategy by which such a small portion of the population can maintain control over the much larger majority – deception. Over the past century, management of public perception and crowd psychology has become the critical high-tech tool of corporate/political interests. By this means, misinformation achieves widespread acceptance of practices contrary to public interest and manipulates fear and prejudice to distract attention away from intelligent opposition to the practices of the powerful.

      The Roman Empire and the USSR were examples of this phenomenon. They did not fail because the masses caught on and rose up in to change the system. Instead, those systems failed because their rigid power structures were incapable of correcting the excesses that made them economically dysfunctional so they fractured from within and collapsed.

      We are seeing similar effects of excess in the U.S. The growth of poverty, the decline of the middle class, the rapid failure of our neglected infrastructure... all stand in stark contrast to the phenomenal hoard of wealth contained behind the shield of corporate law. It may be that the greater flexibility of U.S. culture will produce an awakening to the realities of our social and economic problems and put better minds to work on coherent solutions. But the clock is ticking... ticking... ticking.

      August 18, 2013 at 11:34 am | Reply
    • Shelia

      and you don't think the government makes money? your fooling yourself look at the public schools.

      August 19, 2013 at 7:46 pm | Reply
  19. Harleigh Kiffer

    Let's release them to reside in Detroit or Chicago.

    August 18, 2013 at 8:07 am | Reply
  20. Howard

    Look for more incarcerations not less. We have privatized prisons in many state making billions for keeping people in prison. Two judges in Pennsylvania, Conahan and Civarella are in prison because they took millions in bribes to put innocent kids in prison. Too much money to be made. Read about the guy in california that walked out of restaurant without paying and is doing life under the three strikes law.

    August 18, 2013 at 8:10 am | Reply
  21. PV

    It's ridiculous to incarcerate nonviolent drug users. Now if the person steals then that is a crime, whether he is a drug user or not, theft is a crime. We spend way too much money on prisons and the whole criminal justice system. Legalize it and tax it, prohibition didn't work for alcohol and it's not working for drugs, it just creates more crime...Amsterdam is a model of how a society can make money and control drug use. BTW when some white kid is caught with pot it's usually a slap on the wrist while a black kid without daddy's financial resources and political connections is sent to jail. Then once out of jail it's nearly impossible for these people to get a job!

    August 18, 2013 at 8:10 am | Reply
    • Brian

      PV, what a bunch of BS. The Netherlands wished they never adopted such a stance, they just looked the other way. Well since that was a failure they are now cracking down on drugs. I was in Amsterdam and I saw the visitors from other countries being stupid and causing problems. Europe has a very high crime rate and they expound crime prevention, not crime reaction. We do not, we have lower crime rates because we do put people in jail.

      A great deal a crimes won't occur if we adopted a strong mandatory crime prevention program, such as: pay-before-you pump gas, robbery proof banks and stores, better insurance breaks for hardening the building against the break-in, such as we do for fire prevention.

      There are many aspects to our problems and it will take many years to correct to resolve them.

      Drugs destroy and we should flatly not tolerate as a society their abuse. As far as I’m concerned it should be treated as if you are the most deplorable piece of crap and I do not want to associate with you whatsoever!

      August 18, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Reply
      • John Alexander

        ... This country has a problem with drugs legal and illegal. The drug companies put out tons of legal drugs which can be as dangerous as illegal ones and who has the right to determine in this country, that has an equal protection under the law, which drugs you can or can not use. This is not a dictatorship the people make the choice not Brain

        August 18, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
    • Sarah


      August 18, 2013 at 2:18 pm | Reply
    • Shelia

      It's ridiculous to incarcerate anyone that is nonviolent.

      August 19, 2013 at 7:33 pm | Reply
  22. ced1968

    Consider the psychological damage inflicted on incarcerated persons over a drug conviction, I imagine it to be nearly impossible for them to rejoin society and be productive. Corporations demanded and fueled the war on drugs, they added employment screening to weed out (pun intended) drug users and added background checks to ensure incarcerated persons could never get a job again. America is unforgiving, we pass so many laws to make so many of our citizens criminals and then throw them away. But if you bilk investors out of a billion dollars, you can get a job at a hedge fund. Our laws are inherently discriminatory and they disproportionately affect low income and poor people. I am not suggesting that violent and severely addicted persons should be or even could be employed in all corporations but we as a society have to find a way to stop throwing people away like human garbage.

    August 18, 2013 at 8:17 am | Reply
  23. Richard Hode

    I have been saying and writing what this article says for years, and I'm glad to see that these ideas have finally penetrated into the mainstream consciousness. It was always jarring that more Americans are in prison than the citizens of any other country. Are we worse people? Of course not. The problem is that Americans have always loved to wage wars on sin – morality wars rooted in our Puritan history. It will be an advance when we manage to ditch this archaic desire for witch hunts.

    August 18, 2013 at 8:22 am | Reply
    • Photo99

      "Consider the psychological damage inflicted on incarcerated persons over a drug conviction"

      Actually the federal government is hypocritical in that they tell hiring companies that convictions should not be used to weed out applicants, but they themselves have a strict background investigative process for federal jobs that virtually eliminates anybody with a drug conviction. It sort of is like the "it's OK but not in my backyard" type of thing.

      August 18, 2013 at 7:22 pm | Reply
  24. gg

    It's not legal for Eric Holder to pick and choose the laws he will enforce.

    August 18, 2013 at 8:22 am | Reply
    • davidv

      Does anyone recall the original concept behind "mandatory sentences" and why they were initiated?

      August 18, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Reply
      • Photo99

        The concept of mandatory sentences I think was the result of too many lawyers plea bargaining a conviction down to help their clients. Depending on how good the lawyer is, some people were handed down minimum sentences while others were handed down maximum sentences for the same crime. Mandatory sentences sort of closed that loop hole. It was also a reaction to get really tough on crime. You do the crime you do the time !!

        August 18, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
  25. The6thsense

    Whip the users, hefty fine and real community hour..heavy need for jail time

    August 18, 2013 at 8:25 am | Reply
    • Dr. Zeke

      YOU should be in prison.

      August 18, 2013 at 8:52 am | Reply
  26. JG

    "The greatest challenge in pushing these numbers further down will be the prison lobby. Believe it or not, many of our prisons are run by private companies that then lobby state legislatures massively for bigger prisons, larger budgets, and of course more prisoners"

    So your conclusion is that the problem is the private prison lobby? Do you think there is no public prison lobby? In my state the prison guards' lobby is orders of magnitude more powerful than the private prison lobby, and they advocate in all kinds of ways to get more people incarcerated. They fight furiously for tougher drug laws so that we require more prisons, which requires more guards and puts a larger fraction of the population under their control.

    It is just as evil when the lobbyists are hired by the public prison industry.

    August 18, 2013 at 8:26 am | Reply
  27. John

    Of course, this liberal media outlet fails to point out that the largest prison lobbying group are the Correctional officers unions. 3 billion for private prison companies? What about the other 77 Billion a year on prisons? Where does it go? PENSIONS TO PUBLIC WORKERS! Correctional officers make excellent money, get health insurance, a pension, and they always lobby for tougher sentencing. REPORT ON BOTH SIDES OF THE ISSUE FOR A CHANGE!

    August 18, 2013 at 8:31 am | Reply
    • us_1776

      There's just one small fly in your rant.

      A lot of these prisons are FOR-PROFIT prisons run by private companies. So you can forget about all that stuff about public pensions and unions and your other such nonsense.


      August 18, 2013 at 8:35 am | Reply
  28. bill davis

    It is a way of life, prison and Welfare, and enjoyed by many It is kind of like the country club, without the grind of going to work.

    Politically it's some good jobs for a few friends, and some kick backs.

    Not too bad returning to the joint, and seeing a few old friends,

    August 18, 2013 at 8:39 am | Reply
    • Dr. Zeke

      Thanks for sharing your personal experience.

      August 18, 2013 at 8:50 am | Reply
    • davidv

      In others words its like a social club. Like the Knights of Columbus.

      August 18, 2013 at 4:30 pm | Reply
    • Photo99

      You are right some of these people live in a parallel world of crime and cannot adapt to the real world. Prison life, or being in and out of it, becomes normal to them with all the rules that type of life entails. Some of these guys know the law better than some lawyers. Some of them actually prefer prison life rather than having to look over their shoulders on the streets.

      August 18, 2013 at 7:31 pm | Reply
  29. alkoholik

    I was arrested in Florida and spent time in jail for not paying a $27 ticket for having a dog on the beach.
    People in Florida also get jail time for overdue library books.A little overkill ,no.............

    August 18, 2013 at 8:45 am | Reply
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