The Failure of Prisons

From Reuters:

The number of Americans in prison has risen eight-fold since 1970, with little impact on crime but at great cost to taxpayers and society, researchers said in a report calling for a major justice-system overhaul.

The report released on Monday cites statistics and examples ranging from former vice-presidential aide Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby to a Florida woman’s two-year sentence for throwing a cup of coffee to make its case for reducing the U.S. prison population.

This is of course mostly because of the war on drugs, which has exploded since the early 1980s (thanks to Mr. Small Government, Ronald Reagan). But it is also because of the general trend of mass imprisonment, the punishment of ever more Americans for non-crimes, and the draconian detention of even real criminals in ways that don’t help the victim but only punish for its own sake.

If Americans wish to reclaim the national reputation of having the freest country on earth, one of the first places we must look to is the prison system, the vastest on the planet, which, in its current incarnation, is totally incompatible with a free society. Indeed, I would argue that a truly free civilization would have virtually no prisons at all, much less the horrifyingly inhumane cages that house millions in America today.

Anthony Gregory is a former Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and author of the Independent books American Surveillance and The Power of Habeas Corpus in America.
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