According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics the United States prison population is over two million people. That is almost equivalent to the next two highest prison populations in the world COMBINED. I know that as a country we always want to beat China (#2) and Russia (#3) but this is just absurd. Is our population more deviant or do we need to reevaluation our sentencing philosophy?
We have examined the idea of over criminalization in our blog previously, and the New York Times editorial on “Why Prison’s Are Shrinking” is showing how States are examining, sentencing and how they need not be a “one size fits all” process. Sentencing reforms by states are being driven by statistics and data rather than gut reactions. By expanding drug treatment and mental health services, and by improving probation, states are finding that they are actually able to save money by reducing the number of inmates that are being housed in their expensive prisons.
Sentencing reform is a major project, but we need to make it a reality. Drug treatment and better probation is but one step that needs to be taken. Making a real effort to treat drug addicts rather than incarcerate them is the only way to win the war on drugs. We also need to give our judiciary more autonomy to make the sentencing decisions that are appropriate. The increase in madatory minimum sentencing is what drove our prison population and rethinking this type of sentencing is necessary to bring our prison population down.