By Lawrence M. Hinman
Gov. Jerry Brown’s prison realignment initiative to transfer nonviolent offenders from state prisons to local facilities may be motivated primarily by cost-cutting concerns, but it provides California with a golden opportunity to take a leadership role in transforming our nation’s penal system. Decades ago, California initiated the three-strikes rule, resulting in a disastrous overcrowding of California’s prisons and – to the extent that other states followed our lead – a nationwide increase in prison populations that has now reached staggering proportions.
The statistics are stunning. Although the United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population, we have 25 percent of its prisoners. According to studies by the Pew Center for the States, almost 1 in every 100 people (2.1 million) in the United States is in prison or jail, and one in every 31 is currently involved in the criminal justice system whether incarcerated, on parole or on probation.
We have become the victims of our own righteousness, burdened down with the consequences of ever-harsher penal policies, policies that ultimately impose increasingly heavy burdens on ourselves as well as upon those whom we seek to punish.
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