“The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population but almost 25 percent of the total prison population.” (Website: New York Times) A significant percentage of the more than 2 million Americans incarcerated today are nonviolent offenders. Today, “more than one out of every 100 adults is behind bars.
” (Website: Vice News) A significant number of those incarcerated are held for low-level, nonviolent offenses. We must end the era of mass incarceration.To begin to make even a dent in this issue, we can start by reforming our country’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Excessive federal mandatory minimum sentences keep nonviolent drug offenders in prison for too long.
We should be focusing more federal enforcement resources on violent crime, instead of, for example, simple marijuana possession. Marijuana arrests, including for simple possession, account for many drug arrests in this country. We should be allowing states that have enacted marijuana laws to act as a test of democracy and finally reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance; that alone would cut the sentencing for tens of thousands of individuals currently incarcerated.Finally, we need to end the privatization of prisons. We should be moving away from contracting out this core responsibility of the federal government to private corporations.
The government needs to stop creating private industry incentives that contribute to over-incarceration. For-profit prisons do not deliver on their promise of significant savings, and the risks far outweigh the small fiscal benefit they provide to those within their walls. These corporations that are building and running for-profit prisons have a financial interest in the growth and continuation of mass incarceration. That is why they invest enormous amounts of money to lobby for more punitive criminal justice legislation.
These corporations are also making even more significant contributions to political campaigns and super PACs that will increase the reliance on these prisons. Legally, this is all acceptable behavior. However, the fact that they consider it in their interest to do so is precisely what exposes such a troubling conflict. Especially today, when the systemic racialized problems with the criminal justice system are increasingly apparent, we should not endorse strategies that encourage the expansion of the for-profit prison state.