Who knew that locking up a far larger proportion of its citizenry than any other country made no sense? Apparently a lot of people knew. This Sunday's New York Times editorial condemning mass incarceration begins thusly:
For more than a decade, researchers... have been issuing reports on the widespread societal and economic damage caused by America's now-40-year experiment in locking up vast numbers of its citizens. If there is any remaining disagreement about the destructiveness of this experiment, it mirrors the so-called debate over climate change.But just like the War on Drugs, the War in Iraq and the War in Afghanistan, knowing something is downright stupid and doing something about it are two different things.
...many politicians continue to fear appearing to be "soft on crime," even when there is no evidence that imprisoning more people has reduced crime by more than a small amount.The Times might as well just come out and say it: mass incarceration is, indeed, The New Jim Crow, as the editorial demonstrates:
From 1980 to 2000, the number of children with fathers in prison rose from 350,000 to 2.1 million. Since race and poverty overlap so significantly, the weight of our criminal justice experiment continues to fall overwhelmingly on communities of color...The piece ends without mincing words...
After prison, people are sent back to the impoverished places they came from, but are blocked from re-entering society. Often they cannot vote, get jobs, or receive public benefits like subsidized housing - all of which would improve their odds of staying out of trouble. This web of collateral consequences has created... "a highly distinct political and legal universe for a large segment of the U.S. population."
The American experiment in mass incarceration has been a moral, legal, social, and economic disaster. It cannot end soon enough.Unfortunately, even if it cannot end soon enough, it will not end soon enough. After all, it's not like we as a society have anything better to do with the millions of lives and billions of dollars being so wasted.