Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Student wants fewer Americans incarcerated.

This is a student-written editorial, and I'm sharing it on the blog without my comments.

I am writing about our prison system and the need for reform.   

Senator Jim Webb from Virginia is on a crusade to do just that.  He cites that the United States, with only 5% of the world's population, is housing 25% of the world's reported criminals.  The numbers of people incarcerated for drug related crimes have soared 1200% since 1980 when Ronald Reagan declared a war on drugs.  However, a significant number of people incarcerated for drug offenses have no history of violence or high-level drug activity.  He also goes on to state that there are four times as many mentally ill people are in prisons than in mental health hospitals.  Our prisons are overcrowded, but not with the people that should be in our penal system.  

The United States spends about 68 billion dollars a year on corrections. It would be prudent for us to consider whether that money could be better spent on treatment for substance abuse and mental illness.   Certainly the correctional facilities are not equipped to address the needs of those addicted to drugs and/or alcohol or those suffering with mental illness.  We need to move these people out of the prisons and provide them with services that would allow them the opportunity to become productive members of society.  

There was a time when we addressed substance abuse as a health issue. Now we decided these people are criminals and that they should be punished for "breaking the rules".  Then what? They are released after serving their sentence and return to society with the same issues that landed them in the penal system in the first place.    How is it that a person suffering with mental illness can find rehabilitation in the confines of a prison?  While none of us approve of those that break the rules of society, our energy and resources would be better directed at reducing the number of people incarcerated for minor substance abuse violations and non-violent crimes in order to make room for the people that we built prisons for, those that we need protection from.

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