Turning jails into prisons: An opportunity for real reform


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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2 thoughts on “Turning jails into prisons: An opportunity for real reform

  1. Canada (where I’m from) is struggling with some similar issues, especially surrounding youth in conflict with the law. While our police officers are encouraged via Federal legislation to use extrajudicial measures to deal with these offenders, many wind up in a detention facility for minor crimes. What is more concerning is that if diversion programs are used, they are technically only to be used once. This means that if something were to happen and a youth were to be arrested again, their punishment seems to automatically become more severe.

    In both Canada and the US, it seems that a huge shift in not only policy, but the philosophy that underpins punishment in these countries needs to be examined.

    thanks for an interesting post!

    Like

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