Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Congress wakes up to the US incarceration rate: worst in the world.

with one comment

Scott Lemieux reports in The American Prospect:

In today’s Washington, the formation of a bipartisan committee and/or commission is generally reason to cringe. Today, however, Congresscreated a bipartisan committee that could deserve optimism. The House Committee on the Judiciary Over-Criminalization Task Force will address an extremely severe problem: mass incarceration in the United States.

There is very good reason for the formation of the committee. The rates of incarceration in this country are staggering. The United States imprisons more people per capita than any country in the world—not only far more than any comparable liberal democracy, but more than the world’s authoritarian regimes as well. Even worse, this mass incarceration reflects and exacerbates racial and economic inequalities. As scholars such as Michelle Alexander and Becky Pettit have shown in chilling detail, mass incarceration has taken a massive toll on racial minorities. One in every 36 Hispanic men over the age of 18—and one in 15 African-American males over the age of 18—are in prison. In many states, convicted felons continue to be formally sanctioned by the state, losing the right to vote or to join certain professions. The informal effects of having a felony conviction are even greater; particularly in a buyer’s market for labor, the economic prospects of convicted felons attempting to get a job and put their lives in order are generally bleak.

Mass incarceration is also a massive burden on state and federal coffers, consuming taxpayer money that could go to other important public purposes. Better funded anti-poverty, education, and mental-health programs could alleviate crime in addition to their other positive benefits. Spending huge amounts of money to incarcerate nonviolent offenders or people long ago convicted of violent crimes who no longer pose a substantial safety risk is not only an offense against human rights but is an extremely inefficient use of resources.

Perhaps the many horrible consequences of mass incarceration would be defensible if it made Americans unusually secure. It doesn’t. Rates of homicide, sexual assault, and robbery in the United States are allhigher than in most comparable liberal democracies.

Because mass incarceration entails massive costs in exchange for highly dubious benefits, legal experts from acrossthe political spectrum—not only civil libertarians but conservative Republicans such as former Reagan administration Attorney General Edwin Meese—have joined the call for alternatives. This increasing consensus is reflected in the makeup of the House Committee, led by Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner and consisting of five Democrats and five Republicans. The committee will search for parts of the criminal code that are unnecessary or counterproductive.

Even if it makes worthwhile proposals, there are major limitations to what this bipartisan committee can accomplish. It is interesting to compare the statements of the Republican and Democratic members of the Over-Criminalization Task Force about what they perceive the problem to be. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 May 2013 at 9:46 am

Posted in Congress, Law

One Response

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  1. Excellent piece. America’s incarceration rate is tragic and shortsighted. Let’s hope some badely needed reforms can actually get approved.



    8 May 2013 at 6:54 pm

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