Many Americans might fail this Jeopardy-type question: Which country incarcerates more people than any other nation on earth, both in terms of absolute numbers and inmates per capita?
That answer, confirmed through multiple and diverse sources, is, sadly, the United States.
Many of those prisoners, both in the federal prison system and incarcerated in the various states, are first-time non-violent offenders serving time — often extremely lengthy sentences imposed under sentencing guidelines — following their conviction on drug charges such as marijuana possession or distribution.
In fact, and as this blog has noted in prior posts, that particular prison group comprises about half the total federal prison population. Of the approximately 2.3 million prisoners in U.S. federal and state prisons, more than 500,000 were convicted on drug charges.
That is the byproduct of America’s so-called War on Drugs, a hard-line stance that now faces a vast swath of critics from across the country that decry it for its social and economic costs.
One such group is a broad coalition of about 175 media celebrities, musicians, civil rights advocates, clergy members, athletes, politicians and business moguls that just last week sent a letter to President Obama urging strong and immediate drug reforms.
The group stresses that the “lock them up” philosophy so long practiced across the country has yielded starkly adverse results and needs to be replaced with a stronger focus on intervention, rehabilitation and offenders’ reintegration into society in meaningful ways. The costs of that, they say, are cheaper upfront than prison outlays and far less costly over the long term, as well.
“America is made safer if we break the cycle of mass incarceration,” noted one signer of the letter, an author and scholar at Syracuse University.
Noted another signer, NAACP head Benjamin Todd Jealous: “[W]e know that drug treatment is seven times more effective than incarceration.”
Source: Cannabis Culture, “Celebrities urge Obama forward on drug, sentencing reform,” Phillip Smith, April 9, 2013