Fighting a war that is already lost
To The Editor:
There are now more Americans in our jails than there were prisoners in Stalin’s Gulag Archipelago. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact in our nation today. Overall, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” – more than 7.1 million – who are either in prison, on probation, or under correctional supervision and these numbers keep climbing each year as more prisons are being built nationwide.
Here are the facts: The U.S. has 760 prisoners per 100,000 citizens. That’s not just many more than in most other developed countries, but seven to 10 time as many. Japan has 63 per 100,000, German has 90, France has 96, South Korea has 97, and Britain, with a rate among the highest, has 153.
This wide gap between the U.S. and the rest of the world is relatively recent. In 1980 the U.S.’s prison population was about 150 per 100,000 adults. It has more than quadrupled since then. So something has happened in the past 30 years to push millions of Americans into prison.
That something, of course, is the war on Drugs. Drug convictions went from 15 inmates per 100,000 adults in 1980 to 148 in 1996, an almost tenfold increase.
Many state prisons are now run by private companies that have powerful lobbyist in state capitals. These firms can create jobs in places where steady work is rare, and in many states, they have created a conveyor belt of under-the-table ready cash for candidates running for office who support their policies.
As a result, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education in the past 20 years. In 2011, California spent $9.6 billion on prisons vs. $5.7 billion on their University of California system and state colleges. Since 1980, California has built one college campus and 21 prisons. A college student costs the state $9,667 per year, a prisoner costs $45,226 a year. The results are gruesome at every level.
We are creating a vast underclass in our nation, at an enormous expense, of people increasingly unable to function in a normal society. Bombed out of our minds, drug-crazed lobotomized zombie losers, is this what we have become as a nation? We are fighting a War on Drugs which we, alas, have already lost.
Where is that great American patriot who will come forward, clean out the stench from our Augean Stable and then leaf our nation forward to a glorious new golden dawn?