Friday, April 24, 2009

Easter Sunday April 12, 2009

Dear Sis~
It's Easter Sunday, a day of reflection for me, as well as pleasant childhood memories...

I just read an interesting article in Parade Magazine, authored by Senator Jim Webb, from Virginia, on overhauling our entire prison system. I've always liked Webb-he's big on common sense, and a real pragmatist. In this article, he seeks to provoke a national debate on why America imprisons such a large percentage of its citizens, as he lays out the statistics to make his case. These are well known statistics to anyone who has made a point of examining this issue, but let me share a few of them with you: The United States has, by far, the world's highest incarceration rate. With 5% of the world's population, we have nearly 25% of the world's prisoners. We currently incarcerate 756 prisoners per 100,000 residents, a rate nearly five times the worldwide average of 158 per 100,000. In addition, more that 5 million people who recently left jail remain under "correctional supervision", which includes parole, probation and other community sanctions. All told, one in every 31 adults in America is in prison, jail, or on supervised release. We spend $68 billion a year on local, state and federal corrections. A large percentage of all inmates are in prison for non-violent offenses, including a substantial number of drug offenders. And these are not the drug lords or big-time dealers; our prisons aer clogged with people who possessed small amounts of drugs. 47.5% of all drug arrests in America in 2007 were for marijuana. Nearly 60% of those in state prisons serving time for a drug offense had no history of violence or any significant selling activity. Four out of five (80%) of drug arrests were for possession, while only one out of five was for sales...

I know from my own 35+ years of prison experience that we could release at least one third of all prisoners without any danger to the safety of society, and I'm being conservative. For reasons I don't fully understand myself, our nation has a love affair with prisons, with locking up our citizens for years and years. We do it casually, almost with glee, with no real thought to the consequences. In America, prison is often the first resort, not the last, and we think nothing of sentencing someone to 20 or 30 years for a property crime or for drugs. Much of this culture is politically motivated and, even more so, economically motivated - the prison industrial complex is a huge and politically powerful lobby whose sole goal is to build more prisons and jails, staff them, and fill them with prisoners. Few citizens know (or care) just how powerful this lobby is, and how it influences lawmakers to pass punitive statutes (like the three-strike laws, or abolishment of parole) to ensure their prisons remain full and more are built every year. We spend more on our prisons than we do on education, which should be a shock to all Americans, but sadly, isn't...

Alright, enough of that...I've got to get back to my legal project (it should be done by the time you read this).
Love, Bill

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