The United States of America is, more than ever, a prison state. Looking at some numbers just crunched by the nonprofit, non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative, it’s hard to deny that America has turned incarceration into more than a mere industry–it’s become a pillar of our society.
“The American criminal justice system holds more than 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,259 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, and 79 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories,” states a new Prison Policy Initiative report released on Dec. 8. “Looking at the big picture requires us to ask if it really makes sense to lock up 2.3 million people on any given day, giving this nation the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world.”
We’re not talking about Soviet Russia or communist China here. This is the U.S. And it’s out of control.
Congressional Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D–Hawaii, would seem to agree. In fact, she recently announced that she’s supporting two new criminal justice reform bills.
“Our criminal justice system today is unsustainable, both for our government and for society. In Hawaiʻi, 5,500 inmates were in our correctional system last year, including 1,300 sent to Arizona because of prison overcrowding, and our state spent over $179 million on corrections,” Gabbard said in a Dec. 3 news release. “Across the country, spending on our criminal justice system continues to go up, but over 40% of people released from prison return within 3 years.”
Here are the two bills:
The Sentencing Reform Act: According to Gabbard’s office, this bill “reduces specific mandatory minimums for drug offenses, reduces the three-strike mandatory life sentence to 25 years, broadens the existing safety valve for low-level drug offenders, and provides judges with greater discretion in determining appropriate sentences while ensuring that serious violent felons do not get released early.”
The SAFE Justice Act: Gabbard’s office says this bill mandates a wide variety of reforms including the following–”restores discretion to judges to determine to what extent manipulated conduct that results from fictitious law enforcement ‘stings’ may be considered in court; eliminates federal criminal penalties for simple drug possession in state jurisdictions; expands eligibility for pre-judgment probation; promotes greater use of probation for lower-level offenders; applies life sentences for drug trafficking only in the most egregious cases; allows eligible offenders to petition for resentencing under new trafficking laws [and] creates mental health and de-escalation training programs for prison personnel.”
“States around the country are finding new and innovative ways to address the many problems that plague our criminal justice system,” Gabbard said in her news release. “In Hawaiʻi, veteran treatment courts and drug courts are helping to reduce prison crowding and over-criminalization by focusing on rehabilitation and treatment. Similarly, the HOPE model has shown dramatic results in reducing recidivism by implementing a high-intensity supervision probation program. Criminal justice reform is a bipartisan cause, and both the SAFE Act and the Sentencing Reform Act are the kinds of sensible changes that will begin to bring about long overdue criminal justice reform.”
Photo of Alcatraz Prison: Pfnatic/Wikimedia Commons